Time to channel voices into actions to fight opioid crisis
Now that a series of talk sessions with those on the front line of the opiate epidemic ravaging our community has ended, the real work of a medial partnership called Your Voices Mahoning Valley is just begun.
That partnership – “Your Voice Mahoning Valley” among The Vindicator, The Tribune Chronicle of Warren, 21 WFMJ-TV and WKSU/ National Public Radio – is part of a broader statewide coalition of more than 20 media enterprises called “Your Voice Ohio,” which is designed to stimulate dialogue and problem-solving for this grave crisis. The project in the Valley is particularly important because it serves as a model for the rest of the state.
Over three nights this week, the group hosted community meetings in Youngstown, Warren and Struthers designed to unite a crosssection of individuals whose lives and work have been ripped asunder by the newly declared public health emergency in the United States. Its primary goals include building a stronger knowledge base of the crisis and finding solutions toward ending it, or at least slowing it.
We’re pleased that the sessions succeeded in building a much stronger knowledge base, which can serve as a foundation for continued investigation and community problem-solving by each of the media partners. The first step toward those important ends is listening.
We listened to a man who made perfectly clear just how effortless it is to find and purchase heroin, opiates and other illicit drugs in the Mahoning Valley. “It’s just so plentiful out there,” he said, in comparing procuring heroin to ordering a pizza.
We listened to the Girard woman who presented one distressing snapshot of how difficult accessing needed long-term treatment for addiction can be here. Because she had found the strength to lay off opiates, she said she had to resort to using them again simply to be deemed a serious enough case to get a bed in a recovery center.
And we listened to several participants who passionately argued for more funding and resources and investments in treatment centers, early education, support for families dealing with the painful side effects of abuse, and programs that encourage recovery.
Participants also pondered solutions. These included increasing support services for people in recovery, doing more to end the stigma of addiction, and encouraging more personal responsibility.
It is now the responsibility of Your Voice Mahoning Valley and leaders in law enforcement, addiction recovery, public health and local governments to follow-up on what we’ve heard.
For our part, The Vindicator and other members of the media partnership plan to use ideas generated at the talk sessions as fodder for more investigation and stories on the drug crisis. Through such engagement, we hope we can make a difference toward taming the monster of addiction.
Key to achieving that goal must be active participation by as wide a spectrum of the community as possible. Participants at the final session Tuesday, for example, were asked to write a note to themselves to remind them of one concrete thing they can do to help lessen the severity of the crisis.
One such thing that likely thousands of Valley residents can do to make a difference takes place Saturday. Drug Take-Back Day is a biannual event, spearheaded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA partners with thousands of police departments to prevent abuse and theft of medications by allowing people to rid their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs.
The service is free and anonymous to those making the disposals. Pills can be dropped off tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Youngstown State University Police Department at 266 W. Wood St.. During those same hours, drugs will be accepted at these police departments as well: Austintown, Beaver, Boardman, Canfield, Milton, New Middletown and Springfield in Mahoning County and Bazetta, Cortland, Hubbard and Newton Falls in Trumbull County.
Participation in this event represents one small step for residents to actively engage themselves in the larger mission of reducing the scope of the crisis. Much more clearly will be needed.
But as Carolyn Mauro of Canfield, who lost her son to a heroin overdose, aptly noted at the final Your Voice listening session this week in Struthers: “It takes more than one person. It takes a community.”