Group tackles opioid problem

Special to the Tribune Chronicle Andrew Rockway writes down answers from the round tables at the Your Voice Mahoning Valley meeting Sunday at the Boys & Girls Club in Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Some had battled addiction themselves. Others have family members who are addicted. Still, others tackle the topic of addiction every day in their work as journalists, anti-drug advocates and recovery professionals.

Individuals representing all of these perspectives came together Sunday at a meeting on the city’s South Side to talk about solutions to the area’s opioid epidemic. The discussion was the first of three local meetings organized by Your Voice Ohio, a project that joins more than 20 Ohio news outlets together to share ideas. The Tribune Chronicle, The Vindicator, 21 WFMJ-TV and WKSU / National Public Radio are collaborating on the project.

A group of about 20 people attended Sunday’s event at the Boys & Girls Club of Youngstown. In small-group sessions, participants tackled three questions: How is the opioid epidemic affecting you, your family and your neighborhood? What do you see as causes of the epidemic in your community? What steps might we take to combat the opioid epidemic?

A common thread that emerged from discussions was easy access to drugs, both prescription opioids and illicit street drugs.

“The reason I came tonight, it’s just so plentiful out there,” said one man whose son is an active drug user. Some said procuring drugs is “as easy as ordering pizza.”

Some described the toll addiction takes on families.

“The stress is unbelievable,” said the man whose son is addicted. Another woman said she attended to help others, because she knew from having family members struggle with addiction that some people will turn their backs on you.

Participants also discussed the drug epidemic’s impact on jobs. On the one hand, employers are having a hard time finding drug-free applicants, but opportunities also are lacking for people in recovery.

“Anybody without a purpose could become lost,” said one man, who said he got clean about a year ago when he found a purpose — his son. He expressed frustration at the lack of opportunities for people in his position, people who are clean and looking to contribute to society.

Many, too, agreed on the need to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction. Many also emphasized the importance of long-term treatment. One participant, who has been clean for 30 years, said he spent more than a year getting treatment and staying in a sober-living house.

“It made me deal with the pain of my life and my lifestyle,” he said.

Participants also said they’d like to see better-informed media coverage of addiction. They said the media need to provide context and make an effort to tell success stories.

All seemed to agree that there’s a need for action at the local level.

As one woman put it: “Quit griping about the problem and do something about it.”

The other local meetings are tonight in Warren and Tuesday night in Struthers. Seats are available at both events.

Grzelewski is a reporter for The Vindicator in Youngstown, which with the Tribune Chronicle, 21 WFMJ-TV and WKSU / National Public Radio are part of Your Voice Ohio, an effort to share ideas on and address the opioid crisis in Ohio.