Enlist in war on opiates; attend drug summit today

The modest gains that have been made in battling the opiate epidemic strangling our community and nation often can be chalked up to effective multitiered collaboration and robust public engagement.

That’s why a collaborative effort by the Mahoning County Juvenile Court and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board deserves maximum engagement from the Mahoning Valley community today.

The two agencies are joining forces, along with a host of other stakeholders in the worst public health crisis in a generation, to sponsor a communitywide opiate summit from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.

It is the second such summit sponsored by the two countywide institutions to draw attention to and build awareness of the epidemic, which shows few signs of slowing down appreciably anytime soon. The first such summit drew approximately 100 people last November. We hope today’s summit at least doubles that attendance.

“We are continuing to host opioid summits because we feel they are an effective way of showing the community the strong cooperation and collaboration among the systems,” said Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the county’s mental health board.

In our community, state and nation, such collaborative efforts have produced tangible results that hold promise toward sometime in the not-too-distant future – perhaps this year – reverse the trend of rising out-of-control death tolls from drug overdoses.

Examples of such multi-pronged collaboration abound. For one, Trumbull County late last year joined hundreds of other counties and communities across the nation in suing the pharmaceutical industry that many regard as complicit in the drug-death trap. For years, most agree the overprescription of opiates and opioids has served a gateway for addiction.

Resolution of the lawsuit expected sometime this year could funnel millions of dollars toward compensating the county for excessive costs in fighting the epidemic on the streets and treating its victims in detox clinics.


In Mahoning County, the sheriff’s office recently launched countywide Quick Response Teams in collaboration with emergency medical-services representatives and professional drug counselors. The team contacts OD victims within 24 to 72 hours of their brush with death and leads them to counseling and treatment. Early indications point to success in leveling off the scope of overdose calls and deaths in the county.

Statewide, strict new guidelines have been developed to limit dosages of opiates and to increase access to the heroin antidote naloxone to the masses. Nationally, the Drug Enforcement Administration this year is reducing by a full 20 percent the U.S. supply of painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, hydromorphone, morphine, codeine and fentanyl. Each of those efforts and others relied on input and cooperation from many stakeholders.

Yet despite such positive developments, the tentacles of the epidemic continue to lengthen and crush more and more lives at an alarming pace. In 2016, the last year for which full records are available, drug overdoses snuffed out the lives of 64,000 Americans, including more than 4,300 in Ohio and about 250 in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

The high number of deaths in the Mahoning Valley prove just how severe the epidemic remains here. The U.S. average of drug overdose deaths in 2016 was 19 per 100,000 population. In Trumbull County, it was almost 70.

That data demonstrate the need for ongoing action to lessen the ferocity of the plague locally. That means more of the same collaboration and engagement must be exerted.

Today’s opiate summit rises as a perfect starting point. Members of the public will gain a vital education from officials the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; Ohio State Highway Patrol, Youngstown’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence; the Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program, the Mahoning County Coroner’s Office, as well as those directly impacted by addiction.

Plan to attend today’s session and lend your support to the overarching mission of fortifying the ranks of foot soldiers committed to winning the war on opiates. The larger the number of allies in the fight, the sooner the opiate monster can be tamed.

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