About 75 Medina County leaders, educators, agencies and law enforcement gathered Friday morning for the first meeting of the Medina County Opiate Task Force at the Brunswick Recreation Center, 3637 Center Road.
HALEE HEIRONIMUS / GAZETTE Enlarge
Medina County leaders are taking a new approach in fighting the heroin/opiate epidemic that claimed the lives of 34 residents last year in the county.
The newly formed Medina County Opiate Task Force’s first meeting Friday attracted about 75 leaders with wider backgrounds than just treatment centers and law enforcement.
The audience included people from education, government and agencies at the Brunswick Recreation Center, 3637 Center Road.
Chaired by Phillip Titterington, executive director of the Medina County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board, and Krista Wasowski, health commissioner from the Medina County Health Department, the group said its goal is to better serve residents who are in need through services and programs.
“The opiate issue is big and complex,” Titterington said. “No one organization, agency, department, community or individual has all the resources or is responsible for tackling this epidemic alone. We all have to bring something to the table.”
“This is your task force,” he continued. “How it unfolds is up to you.”
27 overdoses in 2017
Two months into the new year, the Medina County Drug Task Force reported 27 overdoses. Of that number, law enforcement has administered naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, 15 times, according to task force director Gary Hubbard.
Some may have different feelings about law enforcement providing users with the opiate antidote as a simple “second chance” in life.
“Narcan is a tool in the toolbox,” said Rick Moskalski, EMS coordinator for Cleveland Clinic, based at Medina Hospital. “My opinion is people see there is Narcan out there and it’s almost an excuse (to keep going) because there is something out there to help us. I’m not saying to restrict it but we need to educate the public so it doesn’t get to that point.”
Montville Township police Chief Terry Grice discussed the role of the police in situations.
“Law enforcement isn’t the ultimate decision maker in who lives and who dies,” he said. “We don’t know if they’re going to overdose again or if they’re going to be our biggest advocate to getting off heroin.”
Humans aren’t the only ones receiving the antidote.
Two police dogs — from Montville Township police and the Medina County Sheriff’s Office — carry Narcan for themselves in case they inhale the substance while on the job.
“I never thought 20 years ago when I started this field that we’d be doing K-9 care for drug overdoses,” Moskalski said.
Affecting more than addicts
Medina County Job & Family Services provided statistics that showed how the epidemic affects people around the addicts.
Last December, agency director Jeff Felton said there was a week when the agency worked on cases involving six newborns that were addicted to heroin at birth.
“Oftentimes we think of addicts that choose to use,” Felton said. “There are many addicts that didn’t make that choice to use, those are the newborns that are born and addicted to heroin.”
Since 2010, Felton told the crowd there has been an 11 percent increase statewide in the number of children going into foster care due to the opiate epidemic. In addition, the length of stay of children in foster care has increased, he said.
Medina County has seen an 80 percent increase in children going into foster care from heroin and drug use since 2014.
“For every person struggling with addiction, there are also one, two or three children affected by the addiction,” Felton said.
The agency recently had a case involving a parent, with a 15-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, who died after an overdose.
“That’s a real tough conversation,” Felton said. “To tell those individuals that their parent has died as a result of their addiction is real difficult.”
Children taken from their parents or guardians because of drug-related issues require a different type of attention from school administrators.
“Students may come up (to register) with someone that’s not their guardian but have a piece of paper that says, ‘I can’t take care of my child anymore because I’m an addict. Can this person please register them?’ ” said Assistant Superintendent of Medina City Schools Kristine Quallich. “It’s a new challenge to us that in my18 years I never thought I’d be dealing with.”
One tool used by Medina City Schools, Quallich said, is a background search through Medina police to make sure the child isn’t with someone who abducted the child or may be a harmful threat.
“We have kids that are with someone that they don’t know well but their parents have entrusted,” Quallich said. “We have to make sure the person they’re with is someone they’re supposed to be with.”
Within the schools, Quallich said leaders implement prevention programs and recognize students who are drug- and alcohol-free.
“We have to honor our students who make those good choices but also the prevention programming we provide,” Quallich said.
3-year-old Wadsworth group
In 2014, there were 40 Wadsworth leaders and residents who formed the Wadsworth Drug Free Community Coalition to address the opiate epidemic in their community.
“Wadsworth has a problem,” Director of Public Safety Matt Hiscock said. “We quickly realized that we’re not doing enough and providing for those in need.”
That group’s formation helped lead to The LCADA Way, a Lorain County-based nonprofit treatment group, opening an office in Wadsworth.
The Community Coalition has also:
- Started a 24-hour hotline at (440) 989-4900
- Distributed biweekly social media messages on Facebook with tips
- Worked with local churches for programming
- Hosted series of programs with speakers and panel discussions with other organizations
“It really opened our eyes to some of the issues and what’s happening to our community,” Hiscock said.
The group formed subcommittees, including organizational and strategic planning, awareness and education, public relations and advertising, fundraising and evaluation, and community assistance.
He talked about a new initiative called a “modified quick response team” where trained individuals will follow up with overdose victims by talking with them, if they’re willing, and providing them with resources.
“It’s that next step (following up after an overdose) that I think we’re lacking,” Hiscock said. “It’s that group of people that are in need of the messaging that we’re looking to do.”
Another step is the need for detoxification and inpatient care centers in the county.
At the state level, 69th District Rep. Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, said his job is to seek funding, provide legislation related to the epidemic and knock down barriers that may interfere along the way.
For example, Hambley said he recently co-sponsored House Bill 378, which authorizes law enforcement officers in municipalities serving a population of 50,000 or less to make arrests for motor-vehicle violations committed on national highways that are not part of the interstate highway system. Roadways affected included state Route 18, state Route 42 and state Route 57.
“Those are things at the state level we ought and need to be doing,” he said. “We got right back on that and now we’re going to try to get them (police) back on the interstate.”
In January, Montville Township police seized about $35,350 worth of illegal drugs after a traffic stop for a headlight and cracked windshield violation on Interstate 71.
“There are bills in the works to reduce opiates on the street … and crack down on drug dealers and traffickers,” Hambley said.
Hambley gave the crowd three key words to use in the group’s bid to their road to success: “Follow the money.”
“The money follows the crisis and you follow where the money is going to,” he said. “That’s going to help provide the support you need for these efforts.”
Following presentations, the group formed four subcommittees:
- Community treatment accessibility and availability
- Health, safety and intervention
- Community education, awareness and prevention
- Family support and advocacy
Contact reporter Halee Heironimus at (330) 721-4012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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