Efforts continue to seek opioid solutions

President Donald Trump last week declared the nation’s opioid crisis a national public health emergency. “We will overcome addiction in America,” Trump said Thursday. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.”

His words rang strong, yet the president received crticism for the measure because it fell short of committing much-needed dollars to battle this scourge that kills nearly 100 people per day nationwide. In Ohio alone, opioid overdoses kill about 14 people each day.

No one has definitive answers. Certainly, funding for longer-term treatment programs to help people overcome addiction is one means to an end, but many of us are searching for other ideas that also might help bring an end to this horrible chapter in public health emergencies.

Earlier last week, I had the opportunity, along with several other local media partners, to participate in community conversations in Warren and Youngstown. Members of the community, including area journalists, mental health and addiction experts, public officials, recovering addicts and families of those who are struggling with addiction or who have lost their lives to overdoses, came together to discuss our perception of causes for this opioid crisis and possible solutions.

The crowd of more than 50 people had no problem venturing out on a damp and drizzly evening because they knew the importance of this topic. We settled in to chairs around tables inside Warren’s YWCA, five at each table.

The first question for everyone: Describe the opioid crisis in your community.

The room grew quiet, then there were muffled tones. In the Mahoning Valley, more than 700 have died of opioid overdoses since 2010. In Ohio, more than 16,000.

Folks who were participating this night in Warren, and on the other two nights in Youngtown and Struthers last week, began to feel thrust into painful life experiences. Over the course of three nights, 18 journalists were moved by stories of heartbreak, courage, perseverance, service, love and hope as about 100 people gathered over three nights. Each time, participants were energized to do something, and they asked the news outlets sponsoring the events: What’s next?

The message that we, as journalists, heard was this: Lead, provide answers and, most importantly, tell us how people are breaking the chains of addiction. We, as journalists, want to help by telling these stories and helping to find solutions that can provide hope.

And so, over the next several weeks, journalists from the Tribune Chronicle will join with our media partners on this project, the Youngstown Vindicator, WFMJ-TV Channel 21 and WKSU / National Public Radio, to split up the work, beginning with the scores of questions written on blue note cards by those who attended.

One question was this: What will you (media) do with the information collected? What is YOUR next step?

The answer is this: All the notes have been transcribed and will be shared with the public, beginning with the questions on blue cards. We’ll produce stories based on those notes. However, one of our goals is to energize individuals and organizations to act. This project is part of a larger Your Voice Ohio, an organization of news outlets sharing what they learn about community efforts to curb the crisis.

There are many other questions we received last week. Some have been answered, others will be answered over time. In fact, we will be sharing the entire list with readers in coming days, and if you have more, you can email me or you can post on the Your Voice Ohio Facebook page.

On the heels of Trump’s declaration last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine described this health crisis as a tragedy of tremendous proportions. He said it will take all of us working together to turn the tide of this devastation.

I agree. So, let’s get started — together.