Vindy, other media seek solutions to opioid crisis

« The Valley's Opioid Crisis


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This is about people | About Your Voice

Your Voice Mahoning Valley grows from a belief that people are not being heard and that solutions to problems they face are not receiving adequate attention. The project is part of a statewide effort begun in late 2015 as Ohio news organizations worked together, experimenting with new ways to represent the people of Ohio in the 2016 election. Backed by research conducted by the Jefferson Center, a nonpartisan civic research organization in St. Paul, and polling by the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, the news organizations, led by the Akron Beacon Journal, developed a working model for listening to Ohioans and joining with the public in working toward solutions. The Your Voice Ohio media project has selected the Mahoning Valley as a test site to work closely with residents in identifying solutions to the heroin epidemic. What the people decide here will be used as a model for other news outlets to tackle the crisis statewide, and then launch conversations about the economy. In the Mahoning Valley, participants are WFMJ-TV, The Vindicator, the The Tribune Chronicle and WKSU/National Public Radio. To see more on the statewide news partners and the project, click here..

By DOUG OPLINGER

doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org

YOUNGSTOWN

Three reporters in the Mahoning Valley – Jordyn Grzelewski, Lindsay McCoy and Renee Fox – have worked aggressively in recent years exposing the death and destruction wrought by the heroin crisis.

Despite their dire warnings in newspapers, on television and on the web, the problem here has worsened dramatically.

In Trumbull County, opioid deaths grew at a rate far faster than the state from 2013-15, and Trumbull now is the seventh-worst county in one of the four worst states in the country. Last month, the county health district set a new monthly record of at least 195 overdoses. Since the health district began keeping track in July 2016, the previous monthly OD record was 189 in March.

Mahoning County is only slightly better.

Lest you think the more than 700 deaths in the two counties since 2010 are not your concern, consider:

More than a dozen of those were truck drivers.

At least 19 prepared food for public consumption.

More than 20 were in the health care industry working as nurses, pharmacists, health aides and blood drawers.

There were police, security guards and more than a dozen who assembled automobiles. For every user who died, there may be scores of users still working those jobs.

What are opioids? They include prescription pain killers, heroin and fentanyl.

Worried yet? Wonder what can be done?

The three reporters from The Vindicator, 21 WFMJ-TV and The Tribune Chronicle of Warren view themselves as part of the community and want to be part of the effort to turn the opioid crisis around.

Their editors and news directors share the concern.

In an effort unique to U.S. journalism, the three entities are setting aside their competitive instincts on this issue to launch a community conversation aimed at solutions.

Those sessions will occur Oct. 22-24 in Struthers, Warren and Youngstown. Each location was selected because maps of deaths show they have been deeply affected by the opioid epidemic.

Covering the media collaboration as well as assisting in the coverage will be reporter Tim Ruddell at WKSU National Public Radio at Kent State University.

The community sessions start with the assumption that public-policy decisions and adequate funding from state and national governments aren’t going to happen soon. There must be a community vision with citizens taking responsibility. People will be asked whether opioids have affected their lives and how. They’ll be asked how the Valley would look if it were successfully turning the crisis around and what must be done to do so.

The Mahoning Valley media initiative is part of a larger Your Voice Ohio/Ohio Media Project. What is learned in the Mahoning Valley will be transferred to other communities around the state. The funding and organizational leadership comes from the Jefferson Center, a nonpartisan public engagement organization in St. Paul, Minn.

Jefferson has secured $250,000 in support from the Democracy Fund and $75,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for Your Voice Ohio and a companion project in Appalachian Southeast Ohio, led by Journalism That Matters.

Andrew Rockway, the Jefferson Center’s program director, is leading the initiative in Ohio. “To address the opioid epidemic, we need to better understand it. We can only do that if we’re listening to community members, engaging community members, and providing communities with the information they need to take productive action,” he said.

Several leadership groups are watching the media effort to determine how best to aid the attack on opioids. Among them are the local judicial system, the Youngstown City Club, the Ohio Civility Consortium in Akron and the National Institute for Civil Discourse, a Washington, D.C., organization that has identified Ohio as a state ripe for constructive citizen action.

“This is the type of forward thinking and collaborative approach that Revive Civility Ohio encourages,” said Lauren Litton, coordinator of the program, sponsored by NICD. “People with diverse perspectives must find ways to collectively explore solutions to pervasive issues like the opioid epidemic that are eroding our communities.”

Planning this project already has required a change among media partners. The three reporters and TV news director Mona Alexander, Youngstown editors Todd Franko and Mark Sweetwood and Warren editor Brenda Linert have winced on occasion as they’ve thought about setting aside their desire to have better stories than their competitors.

For this project, they’re willing to share each other’s work.

They see this as a life-or-death situation too important to let their own competitive spirits get in the way.

“This is one of the more tragic epidemics we’ve faced as a region and country,” said Franko. “We’re blessed to have this chance to participate and facilitate for our community at this critical time. Clearly – as these tragedies continue unabated — there’s a solution yet to be found, thus an engagement that is still needed.”

To start people thinking, email addresses have been set up so that community members can offer initial thoughts on what the Mahoning Valley needs to reverse the heroin epidemic. Send your thoughts on the root causes, your solutions or your questions to doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org.

Coming next week: Solutions that have worked in other communities and could be applied in the Mahoning Valley.

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