Medina County residents plan to host an event to raise awareness about drug addiction in the wake of Medina business owners ousting a drug treatment center that was scheduled to open on Public Square.
Three residents who’ve experienced the struggles of the heroin epidemic first-hand have organized an awareness meeting for 7:30 p.m. Monday on the square.
“We want to keep it very peaceful and just have everybody stand together to show that everybody’s equal and to break down the stereotypes that people associate with drug addicts,” said Megan Blough, of Medina.
Blough is the aunt of Brittnee Johns, 17, and Marc Johns, 23, two Medina residents who died recently of heroin overdoses. Blough said the Monday event was organized after it was publicized that Medina businesses opposed a new drug addiction treatment facility on the third floor of the Professional Building on Washington Street, which was an initiative of Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Inc.
“These people aren’t going away and the drug problem in this town is not going away,” she said. “We don’t want to be rude or disrespectful, we just want to spread awareness about this issue.”
Blough said anyone is welcome to attend the event. She said they will have a couple of speakers and other people will be allowed to speak about their stories of recovery or loss regarding drug abuse. She said they also will have a list of names and ages for people in the county who have died of overdoses within the past couple of years.
“We’re encouraging people to bring candles,” she said. “There will be a prayer and moment of silence.”
One of the organizers is Chip Jenkins, of Seville, who lost his son Alex, 26, to a heroin overdose Jan. 19.
“We don’t have what Alex needed in Medina,” he said. “My son so badly wanted help and he couldn’t get it.”
Alex had struggled with addiction for more than five years, Jenkins said.
“When my son was having problems, there was no place for him to go,” he said. “There were a few places that offered some services, but this problem is a lot bigger than people think. Outpatient would not work for him.”
In the earlier years of his addiction, Alex lived in an in-patient facility called Glenbeigh, near Cleveland. But after a while, his insurance coverage became an issue and he had to leave the facility.
“He called me from the facility in tears when he found out he had to leave,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that when he found out Medina businesses did not want a treatment facility in the square, he felt “anger, sadness and disbelief.”
“I’m not angry at individuals, but I’m angry at the thought process,” he said. “There’s a lot of misinformation and fear out there that people just don’t understand. My son was just the friendliest person.”
Jenkins said he feels many people don’t understand heroin addiction until they’ve gone through it themselves or with a family member.
“People think heroin is used by your inner-city criminals, but it’s not like it was 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s a disease that’s affecting businesspeople and families and children.”
Jenkins’ fear now is that more people besides his son will die if public officials keep delaying getting a treatment facility in the area.
“We have to make this a high priority,” he said. “We’re going to have a lost generation. Business owners should be behind this, not opposing it.”
The third organizer of Monday’s event is Thea Bittinger, who was born and raised in Brunswick but now lives in Valley City. She’s also the leader of the Medina County chapter of Ohio Peer Addiction Now.
“I’m a recovering addict myself,” she told The Gazette on Friday. “I have fought the stigma for years.”
Bittinger said that years ago she struggled with an addiction to pain medication. She won the war, but recently her son has struggled with an addiction to heroin.
“My son is recovering in a sober-living home in Florida,” she said. “He lived here in Brunswick, but his addiction progressed from pills to heroin.”
Bittinger said she gave her son an ultimatum after catching him forging her checks — either he went into a treatment facility or she would press charges.
In 2014, he went to a facility in Florida where he did a 90-day rehab program. He came back to Medina County, but relapsed last December.
“Within a week he was back on a plane and he’s been there ever since,” she said.
Bittinger said she was in favor of what LCADA was trying to establish on the square.
“I feel that what LCADA is trying to do will be a great thing for our children,” she said. “Most of them want help because they don’t want to be in that cycle.”
She said she was disappointed by the reaction from the business community in regards to the center.
“Medina has always made it seem like they don’t have a problem,” she said. “People need to understand that it’s everywhere.”
Business owners on the square
The Medina business owners told The Gazette that they think Medina needs a treatment facility, but they don’t want one in the historic district.
Sue Mitchell, owner of 4 Ladies and More Boutique, 101 Public Square, said that she understands the drug problem in the area because a relative has dealt with addiction.
“The square is very family-oriented and there are children that walk around during the day and in the evening,” she said. “You’re dealing with people that have substance abuse problems and, unfortunately, in a lot of cases, when they have those issues, they may support their habit by stealing things. It needs to be in a place where there are not children walking around.”
Mitchell said that she and her employees are female and often leave the business after dark.
“As a female working by myself, I wouldn’t feel comfortable working knowing that facility is just a few blocks away,” she said.
Sara Recker, owner of the Dress Bridal Boutique, 241 S. Court Street, just off the Square, also said that she and most of the other business owners in town are aware of the drug problem and want to see a new facility in Medina, just not in the historic district.
“We’re all compassionate people and we do want these people to have a place to go,” she told The Gazette on Friday. “Drug dealers do, unfortunately, have a stereotype that’s been put on them. There’s no need for a facility in downtown Medina and for people of their type congregating on the Square.”
John Ormandy, owner of Ormandy’s Toys and Trains, 10 Public Square, said that while he opposed the facility going on the Square, he said he would be for it if there was a guarantee that it would be “run properly.”
Cliff Cravens, owner of Lager and Vine, 108 Public Square, said that he was torn as to his opinion of the issue.
“I know there’s a huge need for such a program and center, but there are lots of places in Medina that it can go. The square should be reserved for locally owned businesses.”
Cravens said that he understands the heroin epidemic because a friend has a child who suffers from addiction. He said he would want to know more about the facility before the rehabilitation agency moved in.
“I can appreciate all of the positives to it being there, but no one has presented a plan on how it’s going to happen. No one’s really talking about the hours and the programs. No one’s looking at how it will affect the neighborhood.”
One of Cravens’ concerns was that some of his customers might attribute stereotypes to addicts who would use the facility and those customers would then decide not to go to his restaurant because it’s in close proximity to where the facility would have been.
“It’s an ignorant stereotype, but it’s out there,” he said. “I’ve heard guests say it and customers.”
Mead Wilkins, director of Medina County Job and Family Services, is one of the county officials who invited LCADA to pursue a facility in Medina County. Wilkins often works with families and children who are affected by the heroin epidemic.
“This is a problem that can’t be swept under the rug,” he said. “How we deal with the problem of people suffering from addiction will define who we are as a community.”