By Jordyn Grzelewski
Every seat in the room was filled, and people stood against walls and spilled outside the doorways.
The second Mahoning County opioid summit drew an even larger crowd than the first one in November, and the officials who organized the event said it was a good problem to have.
The event at a community room in the Covelli Centre brought together local politicians, a state official, law-enforcement officers, people in the treatment-and-recovery field, representatives from local schools, community members affected by addiction, people in recovery from substance-use disorders and others.
Panelists discussed different aspects of the opioid crisis, but some common threads emerged from the summit: There is hope for people to recover, and prevention is key to turning the tide.
“We have hope: Hope for all of those who are suffering, and hope for all of those looking for help,” said Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court. The county juvenile court and mental health and recovery board organized the summit.
The panelists were Angie Bergefurd of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; Lt. Jerad Sutton of the Ohio State Highway Patrol; Guy Burney of Youngstown’s Community Initiative to Reduce Violence; Darryl Alexander, director of Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program; and Mahoning County Coroner Dr. David Kennedy.
U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, and Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, sent in video messages, and the audience had the chance to ask questions of panelists and Drs. Joseph Sitarik and Daniel Brown of Neil Kennedy Recovery Center and Meridian HealthCare, respectively.
Sutton discussed law enforcement’s role in fighting the epidemic. He said OSHP in 2011 began to focus on crime prevention as well as its traditional focus on traffic safety.
He said the agency has had higher levels of drug interdictions over the last six years than ever before.
“In 2017, troopers made about 1,653 drug arrests, representing about a 25 percent increase compared to 2016,” he said.
He said troopers seized $52 million worth of drugs in 2017.
Sutton also emphasized the importance of prevention and treatment, saying, “incarceration is just less effective.”
Sutton said in his 19 years as a trooper, the most common question he used to hear from the public was how fast they could drive without getting pulled over.
Starting a few years ago, however, that question became, “Do you carry Narcan?” followed by that person’s opinion on Narcan, Sutton said.
“Narcan is good,” Sutton said.
“Narcan is good because it saves a life. It saves a life for that day. The only way we’re going to save lives long term is prevention and treatment and collaboration.”
Alexander explained how family history puts individuals at a risk for certain issues, including substance-use disorders.
He used himself as an example, saying several of his extended family members had alcohol addictions – putting him at a higher risk that was minimized by the steps his parents took to protect him.
Alexander, too, emphasized the importance of prevention.
“I’m of the mindset, a lot of people are of the mindset, that it has to be science-driven, it has to be evidence-based and it has to align with community needs,” he said.
“And if we invest in it properly, we will succeed.”