By Ed Runyan
Paul Armitage, pastor of youth ministries at North-Mar Church, preceded Monday’s panel discussion on addiction and the family with a prayer in which he called drug addiction a “God-sized problem.”
“Even though this is a desperate and bleak problem, I ask that you give us hope,” he prayed at North-Mar.
It’s an appropriate message in Trumbull County, where the death toll has grown increasingly higher the last two years, despite increased public awareness and increased resources being applied.
Monday’s program is one of several this week alone in Trumbull County. And use of free opiate-reversal naloxone kits has skyrocketed, with 134 people’s lives saved last year with them.
But the county is in the midst of an especially deadly overdose spike this month, April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said privately before the panel discussion began.
Sixteen people are believed to have died in Trumbull County from overdoses so far in March. The county had a record-high 104 overdose deaths in 2016 after a record number of 87 in 2015.
According to the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office, five people died due to drug overdoses between March 1 to March 7. “There have been 55 reported overdoses in the Ohio Department of Health’s Epi Center system since March 1 and a total of 45 overdoses for all of February,” said Sandy Swann, director of nursing at the Trumbull County Combined Health District.
Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services, said one of the reasons he wanted to sponsor the discussion Monday was so he could ask publicly for people to consider becoming a foster parent because of the 40 percent increase in kids coming into custody since late 2015 because of the opiate crisis.
“One of the reasons we’re here, honestly, is we always need more foster parents, never more than now,” Schaffner said.
One of the panelists was Dr. Daniel Brown, chief medical officer with Meridian Healthcare, who educated the audience on why people become drug addicted and the difference between the physical dependence on drugs and addiction.
He said it’s a “common misperception” that people start using opiates, for example, to experiment, “seeking a high.”
But “there are a lot of other factors that go into this. We see patients who have depression, mood disorders. ... Medication makes them feel better. Essentially they are self treating.”
He said there are “environmental reasons,” such as people living in an environment with other people who use drugs and are exposed to them repeatedly.
It can be generational and family related. “They have older brothers or sisters and even parents who have addiction,” he said. “Probably the thing we see the most, though, is people coming to us who have an addiction that started with prescription medication.”
When a person becomes drug dependent and experiences withdrawal from the drug, he or she becomes “extremely restless, their eyes water and their nose waters, essentially they are going to have flulike symptoms,” Dr. Brown said.
That usually lasts five days, or even a week or two, but a person can return to normal “fairly quickly,” he said.
But addiction involves the “pleasure center of the brain, and so essentially anything we come in contact with can stimulate the pleasure part of the brain,” such as food, water, drugs and other things.
The use of a drug “makes associations with people, places, things around them, and they start to have memories of this ... primitive parts of the brain make associations with all of those things.”
The brain changes so that the drug replaces the associations with things such as food and water and “outmotivate our other drives,” he said.