Groups unite on drug war

WARREN – Developing a comprehensive strategy to stem the rise of drug use in Trumbull County is on the agenda for area organizations, law enforcement and individuals.

“We have organizations working to address one aspect or another of the same problems, but they often do not know what others may be doing,” Lauren Thorp, the project director with the Alliance for Substance Abuse Opiate Task Force, said. “Our goal is to bring them together to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat these problems.”

The meeting is scheduled to take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Sunrise Inn, 510 E. Market St., Warren.

Thorp is a program coordinator the Mental Health Recovery Board. The board has been working with 52 other agencies, groups and faith-based organizations for about a year to prepare for the launch of the strategy.

“This effort is not to simply talk about problems, but work at long-term solutions,” she said. “We’ve had enough talk. We want to set goals, timetables and action plans.”

Thorp said she believes combining resources, people and training will allow groups to work more efficiently both individually as well as with one another.

Trumbull County had the ninth-most per capita opiate deaths in Ohio in 2011, which is an improvement over earlier years when it had the eighth-most out of the 88 counties in the state.

“Only eight states in 2008 had a higher number of per capita drug overdose deaths than Ohio,” Thorp said.

The per capita percentage of drug overdoses in the nation in 2008 was 9.1 deaths for every 100,000 people. In Ohio, there were 15.1 drug overdose related deaths for every 100,000 people.

Thorp said the demographic of those abusing drugs, especially opiates, is shifting to younger people from primarily older males who became hooked while on some kind of prescription drugs for work related injuries.

“Opiate abusers are increasingly younger and female,” she said. “Our local providers are seeing more young people coming for treatment.”

Treatment is becoming increasing difficult due to a combination of state funding cutbacks and the fact that treatment programs that require overnight stays are outside of Trumbull County, she said.

“There are no beds here,” Thorp said.

Lt. Jeff Orr, project director of the Trumbull Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force, said a unified approach is the best approach.

“Drug abuse is not just an urban problem,” Orr said. “It is affecting every aspect of our community, so we are attempting to get stakeholders from the prevention and treatment sides, law enforcement, the courts, local governments, as well as the business and faith communities.”

Orr emphasized that the strategy will not be dependent on getting additional money.

“Too often action is dependent on what additional money can be obtained,” Orr said. “There is less money coming from the state and federal governments. Grants are drying up. We have to make improvements with what we have.

“We have to educate young people to make better choices, counselors, law enforcement and courts working together.”

Orr said reducing the drug problem will simultaneously reduce crime. Much crime is linked to people stealing items to pay for drugs or just stealing the drugs, police say. Violent crimes often happen over disagreements over drug sales or from turf wars.

Warren Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, agrees that a lot of the crime problems in Warren and in other communities stem from the abuse of drugs.

“Many of our problems with violent crimes, the stripping of houses, and robberies can be traced to the perpetrators having drug problems,” Colbert said.