By Ed Runyan
Trumbull County has the 9th-highest number of opiate-related deaths in Ohio per capita.
And the community was outraged in November when the connection between violence and drugs exploded in a hail of gunfire in the back yard of a home near downtown that killed one man and injured another.
But the community needed to bring together a broad group of people, identify specific goals and address them systematically, said Lauren Thorpe, project director for the Alliance of Substance Abuse Prevention.
That happened on Wednesday, as close to 90 people from the community, substance-abuse and mental-health treatment agencies, law enforcement, education and government assembled at the Sunrise Inn.
Over four hours, the group, led by Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services, broke up into four groups, each pledging to work for at least the next year on their task.
“It’s the process that works,” Schaffner said.
Jeff Orr, commander of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, agreed to “champion” the group focused on substance abuse and crime.
Orr said drug education in the schools needs to be aimed at students from 5th grade through 12th grade.
Education should also be directed at parents and members of law enforcement, he said.
Law enforcement agencies such as police departments and his agency “do not share information enough,” he said, so there is frequently a disconnect between the work of patrol officers making traffic stops involving drugs and the work of narcotic officers like him, Orr said.
Services to drug addicts could be provided better if there were a “one-stop shop” where people could go for treatment referrals, he said.
The ASAP coalition’s website would be one place to start at www.trumbullmhrb.org/mhrb_asap.html.
Other tools that would helpare anti-drug messages, such as posters, bulletin boards and newspapers.
The community contains a lot of people who would make great mentors, such as doctors and lawyers.
Instead, youths look up to athletes, but athletes have had a poor track record with drug abuse and criminal behavior, he said.
Joan Sullivan of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative said her group will focus on community mobilization by gathering a list of the resources already available in the community to combat drug and alcohol abuse.
The group also wants to try to fill the gap between clergy and government so that the two can work better together.
Michael Flatley, a counselor who works for Valley Counseling, said his group will focus on family- and school-based drug-prevention education.
Flatley said he subscribes to the theory that the community should call attention to drug abusers by “making them known to the community.”
“One way smoking was reduced is because it’s not cool anymore,” he said.
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, spoke on behalf of the group focused on funding, saying groups working on drug abuse need to be better aware of unexplored funding sources.
Groups also need to apply for grants in collaboration because those are the ones that stand the best chance of succeeding, she said.