AURORA -- A recovering drug addict painted a poignant picture of his efforts to "get clean" as part of a drug / opioid crisis awareness program April 22 at the Aurora Inn. It was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.
Contrary to what many people believe about drug abusers, Portage County resident Kelly Hart said many of them do want to get help. "I certainly did," he said, urging people who know abusers to encourage them to seek aid.
Hart said he grew up in a home where alcohol use was widespread and he became depressed, so he turned to alcohol and drugs "to feel normal." By the time he was in his 20s he was an alcoholic.
"I couldn't hold a job, and after I did find one doing roofing work, I fell off a roof and broke my feet," he said. "My use of prescription painkillers started then, and I started shooting up."
He eventually sought treatment and kicked the habit. "I joined AA, and now I like to do what I can to help others by sharing my experiences. There is hope if you are committed to conquering the problem."
He urged the audience, "If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, love them andto try to help them get help. I wish more recovered addicts would get out and help others by telling their stories."
Also speaking at the forum were Karyn Hall of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Portage County, Rob Young of Townhall II, Ali Mitchell of the Portage County Health District and Aurora Police Chief Brian Byard.
Hall explained what happens in their early lives can determine whether people become addicts, noting many others get to that point after getting hooked on painkillers as Hart did.
She said Ohio is the No. 1 state for opioid overdose deaths, and the situation is an epidemic. In 2011, Portage County recorded five confirmed drug overdose deaths, and that number rose to 47 in 2016. Already this year, 16 such deaths have occurred.
She pointed out that many people are prescribed legal painkillers by their doctors, and eventually when the legal doses are cut off, they go out on the streets seeking to buy through illegal channels.
She said Portage County offers two educational programs in the schools -- Too Good for Drugs and Project Alert -- and the county has various treatment options and support groups for abusers and recovering drug users. There also is an addiction hotline -- 330-678-3006.
Young, who is clinical director at Townhall II, said Ohio is doing a good job of addressing the opioid crisis, but there are many regions which don't have adequate treatment programs and facilities.
He explained that the American Medical Association recognized drug addiction as a disease in the 1950s. "It will get worse without treatment, and can lead to disability and/or death," he noted. "Treatment must focus on physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects."
He said detoxification is the first phase of treatment, and can be done on an inpatient or outpatient basis. He noted fentanyl, a potent, synthetic opioid pain medication, is one of the leading causes of addiction.
Young explained that a law recently passed in Ohio -- called the Good Samaritan Law -- provides immunity to people who call for medical assistance for someone overdosing on heroin, opioids or other drugs, and the person who overdosed.
"As professionals dealing with the problem, we don't care how a person gets to the treatment phase; the key is that they do," he summarized.
Mitchell talked about Ohio's Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone), which allows residents to obtain free supplies of naloxone (Narcan), a medication which will reverse an overdose. Those attending were able to get a kit.
If administered soon after an overdose, naloxone can save a person's life if medical attention is sought soon after the medication is administered. Police and fire departments now have ample supplies of it to use when responding to suspected overdoses.
Mitchell noted that one registered person's supply of the medication can be used on another person, and the substance is safe to use on children.
Byard talked about his previous experiences with drug dealers when he was a member of a law enforcement drug task force in Cleveland.
He said the number of overdose deaths recorded in Portage County is deceiving, because many Portage County drug users and addicts go to bigger cities such as Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown to get supplies, and some of them die of overdoes there and are not listed in the Portage statistics.
He noted addiction also increases criminal acts such as thefts, robberies and prostitution, because users / addicts need money to buy their illegal supply of opioids. A high percentage of the jail / prison population also is there because of drugs, he added.
"Once a user / addict can't obtain drugs legally, they turn to the streets to get them illegally," he pointed out. "A drug dealer can make $6,000 a day."
Byard said he believes more aggressive prosecution of, and stiffer penalties for, drug traffickers are needed to address the problem.
He had some advice for those battling addiction and those who have recovered from it: "Separate yourself from the bad people you're associating with or used to associate with."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189