Dropping the gloves over addiction

The grip that opioid abuse has on society reached into one of my favorite spaces – my hockey locker room.

A hockey locker room is not for the faint of heart. The smell, the sweat, the spit is just the start of it. But it’s been a special home for me for 40 of my 50 years because of the souls who inhabit a hockey locker room.

After spending summer months away, getting back to that space two weeks ago was nice.

From those souls erupt great banter as the smelly gear is pulled around our bodies before a night’s play commences.

Fun banter – and biting, silly and serious. You’re never perfectly safe in that banter, but you’re also never in immense danger.

When weight and hair jokes took a break, the talk turned abruptly to the volume of overdose deaths, and then to the use of Narcan to revive abusers.

“Forget them,” said a great friend, often the more genteel in the bunch. However – “forget” wasn’t the F word he used. So I’ll use “forget” for today’s column.

I looked over and said, “Come on now ... that’s ridiculous.”

He was steadfast.

“No, no ... forget them.” (But it was not “forget.”)

Again, he’s a good man. I’m glad he’s not in the majority of public opinion about solving this beast of a societal plague.

An equally good man, but of opposite thinking, is Doug Oplinger – a former top editor at the Akron Beacon Journal. He now heads Your Voice Ohio. It is a startup nonprofit he created with funding from two national foundations, The Jefferson Center and the James and John L. Knight Foundation. Its sites are set on saving Ohio lives from opioid addiction.

The data show our region is among Ohio’s most troubled, and Doug has assembled The Vindicator, The Tribune-Chronicle of Warren and 21 WFMJ-TV to partner in an unprecedented community outreach that begins at 6:30 tonight at the Boys and Girls Club of Youngstown. It continues Monday at 6:30 at the Warren YWCA and Tuesday at 6:30 at Struthers’ Mauthe Park Center.

At those sessions, members of the public have signed up for vital discussion loosely shaped around these thoughts:

How is the opioid epidemic affecting you, your family and your neighborhood?

What do you see as causes of the epidemic in your community?

What steps might we take to combat the opioid epidemic?

Each session is at maximum capacity. All three media groups are partnering with Doug to provide public platforms to discuss this epidemic.

Doug reported last week in The Vindy that about 4,000 a year die of drug overdoses – more than have died of terrorism in the entire country in the last 20 years.

But he also wrote about successes in Cincinnati due to immense and aggressive agency intervention.

We are just starting to get to that intervention point in the Mahoning Valley. Sheriff Jerry Greene and his team just launched new steps for intervention.

Tonight helps that public process.

Go to any of the media websites or the Your Voice site to engage this effort.

The lives saved are worth it – no matter how frustrating it might be at the moment when 10 doses of Narcan are used to save someone. And then they do it again. And again.

It’s that fatigue that gets to good people like my hockey locker room pal.

Hockey’s a cool sport for many reasons.

One controversial aspect is the sport’s acceptance of fighting as a means of solving matters of the game. You might have previously heard “drop the gloves.” It comes from hockey fighting. Fight in football, baseball or basketball, and you get ejected from the game. Fight in hockey, and you just sit for five or 10 minutes then play again.

Oddly, in allowing fighting, you also learn when not to fight. There are other means to achieve goals.

When he said of dying overdose victims “Forget them,” I wanted to fight back with these words:

“Had Narcan existed just 20 years ago, I would have a second brother and my parents would have a third son. It didn’t, and we don’t. Look at me, and say you would not save my brother?”

Now, to say that in the tone I would have, it would have taken the locker room to a bad place.

That wasn’t necessary at that time. There are other means to reach people.

That’s what Your Voice Ohio and your local media aim to achieve with this week’s sessions.

Please invest some time in this.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on VIndy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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