WILMINGTON — Roger Winemiller has seen the opioid epidemic in a way most of us haven’t, and certainly wouldn’t wish on anyone.
He’s lost a son and a daughter to fatal overdoses — within a nine-month period.
The Blanchester-area resident joined more than 50 people including community leaders and journalists Sunday afternoon at the Wilmington Municipal Building for an open community conversation, “The Opioid Epidemic in Wilmington/Clinton County.”
It was hosted by Your Voice Ohio, a statewide collaborative of more than 30 radio, television, print and online news organizations — including the Wilmington News Journal — attempting to give voice to Ohioans on issues of importance.
“I want to be a voice to be heard and help educate people,” Winemiller told the News Journal Sunday when asked why he was attending. “I want to raise awareness and erase the stigma that opioid addicts have over their heads.
“I’m all about the addicts and about supporting the families. We’re not given choices — the only choice is to love them or not to love them. If you love that person, you’re along for the ride.
“Trust me, it’s very much a living hell.”
Heather Gibson of Highland County is the CEO of the community mental health organization REACH for Tomorrow — Restoring, Education, Advocating, Collaborating, Hope — which does local work partnering with Clinton County entities, including with the Clinton County You-Turn Recovery Docket (drug court).
She wanted to stress “the effect it’s having on the farming community; I think that’s a piece that we’re missing. We talk a lot about the suburbs and urban effects … we talk rural, but we’re really not talking about the farming community that’s being tremendously impacted by this.”
Previous such forums, led by retired Akron Beacon-Journal Managing Editor Doug Oplinger, have already been held across the state including in Cincinnati, Dayton and Middletown.
It’s “wonderful to see such a great cross-section of our community attend this event and contribute with their experiences and ideas on combating this epidemic,” attendee and Clinton County resident Beth Ellis told the News Journal Sunday. “To see community leaders, journalists, physicians, law enforcement, Children’s Services providers, concerned citizens and addicts discussing causes and solutions in a roundtable format is encouraging in the ongoing battle in our community.”
What’s it look like?
Forum attendees broke out into small discussion groups and were asked to share on note cards, “What does the opioid epidemic look like in our community?”; “What do we see as causes of the epidemic?”; and, “What steps might we take to combat the opioid epidemic?”
• Diverse issues. Pain pills. Over-prescribed. People don’t see the severity of the problem or see how it affects them physically. Doctors over-prescribing; some receive the prescription are selling it as a business. Manufacturer marketing. It’s everywhere, from the house next door to across the community and state.
• There is no face, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, occupation, or wealth. My view: death, crime, broken families.
• Devastating. Heartbreaking. Breakdown of the family/kids. People who are addicted are our family and friends — we have lost many.
• Parents are heartbroken. Cruel withdrawal. Economic joblessness. It is wrong to put people back on the street to kill themselves or others (especially in an accident). We don’t currently have the infrastructure to handle the load. But we have the tools if we will make it happen. I want to assemble a dossier describing this.
• Loss of innocent life. Family being torn apart. Continued problem throughout county. Crime going up.
• Hardships: Financial, social, burdens (family, loss of family), community degradation.
• Lack of support for family members of addicts. Bring all individuals (people) / ideas to [indecipherable].
• Diverse — heroin, to prescription pain pills. Young adults to senior citizens. Illegal drugs (heroin and opiates) to over prescription of pain medications. Using for recreational highs to chronic pain users’ unintended consequences.
• Housing, job, support, etc.
• Young children/teens with no structure. Mothers. Fathers. Felons with the feeling of no help. Families with addicts. Doctors who just prescribe what “people” want.
• Crowded ERs/crowded jails. Life squads. Slow-speed crashes. Foreclosures. Locked public bathrooms. Jaded law enforcement/medical [personnel].
• Injured families (and broken, displaced kids). Health concerns – Hep C, HIV? Recovery community. Criminal justice concerns.
• Increasing death-disability from increasing numbers of addicted directly. Second-order effects — children, theft, etc. Increasing judicial, police devotion to problem detracting from ability to deal with other issues; increase in first responders dealing with issues.
• Serious epidemic in Clinton County, getting more serious daily. Hundreds of our families are impacted. Children are being displaced. Lives are being lost. Costly to communities. Costly to law enforcement, the courts, service agencies. Legislative control against over-prescribing should be a priority.
• Children in crisis, removed from families, lack of care, medical care, abuse. Hopelessness, loss of generation, children abandoned by parents, services stretched by care givers and first responders. Grim, lack of guidance, understanding, too much of revolving door to combat the issues. Kids are lost in system. Overwhelmed, impacted entire community, recognition but needs to be more.
• Hopelessness. The loss of a generation. Lives ended at a young age. Children raised by extended family and strangers.
• Children in crisis: Removed from their family/mom/dad; change in school; neglect – food/care/proper clothing/lack of medical care; abuse — exposed to domestic violence.
• My community, for being a small population (2,000) has many EMT runs daily (many of same people). Need to know organizations for reference.
• Continuum of all these issues: problems with overdose deaths; problems with crime; problems with children and foster care; problems with employment.
• Overwhelming for both the person battling with addiction and community. Lack of resources, employment (felonies), housing. Involves family member (directly, indirectly). Lack of collaboration. Stigma of treatment — “drug for a drug” instead of meeting people where they need.
• As far as Wilmington, last year at this time, there were 60 kids in foster care. This year there are 100. This is a direct correlation to this epidemic. In Hamilton County, our adopted son’s mother is a heroin addict. She has overdosed in front of him and around her other kids.
• Broken homes. Grief. Foster care exhausted. Opposing views stifling progress. Siblings forgotten, gaps in support. Stigma regarding addiction. Gap in a correct understanding of the definition of addiction. Gap in the understanding of proper prevention initiatives. Jobs.
• Children living separated from their parents. Grandparents raising grandchildren. Employers searching for job candidates. Adolescents using at younger ages. Elderly people abusing prescription meds. Young adults dying and OD. First-responders exhausted and social services overwhelmed.
Statements for the public
Attendees also shared the below opinions with one another, including thoughts on how the news media should be reporting on the addiction epidemic:
• I have never regretted saving an abuser’s/addict’s life, even when I’ve gotten punched or snot-rocketed on. There’s no such thing as a useless life.
• Compassion for those with addiction.
• This event was a great collection of a broad demographic of people and ideas coming together.
• These are your fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, and we all need love.
• I believe one of our greatest purposes here on earth is to be a service to others. Just think of the impact it would have if we would service together to beat this epidemic.
• Goal is to create an environment where collaboration and cooperation are promoted — in an environment freed of conflict — where “freed” is an active, not a passive concept.
• We need to rebuild family/community for support, accountability, and compassion.
• One thing people need to know would be that there needs to be more programs to support children and focus on their emotional intelligence, i.e. teach children how to deal/cope with emotions.
• From a reporting perspective, this small-group type of community engagement is the future of journalism.
• We need to come together as a community — court system, police enforcement, treatment facilities — and meet this epidemic head on.
• Take a moment and put your opinions on addiction aside — imagine what your community would look like if everyone were to help one person achieve successful recovery.
• This can happen to any family. Tell more stories about recovery — how they recovered and help remove the embarrassment and stigma.
• We can only effectively treat the situation if enough people care to make a difference.
• With a little hope, healing can happen. We do recover — 8 ½ months clean.
• Innocent victims of this epidemic are children of all ages who are traumatized and must be taken care of while we find solutions.
• Clinton County has a Drug Free Coalition working to unite county prevention efforts. Email James Syphax, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 937-481-3037 for information.
• This will take a unified community to heal addiction. We need to embrace one another; be accountable to ourselves and one another. Without fear. Without judgment.
• Love and don’t judge. This could very well be you someday.
• Recovery works, but it takes a community to support it.
• Most people would say they don’t have the time to help, but if you want to help bad enough you will make the time. Advocate for a child — CASA.
• Recovery is possible! Reach out to agencies, the County board, or faith community to find the resources and places to turn.
• Quit kid gloving people.
• An epidemic is not of one, it is of many … the whole person, not just the “drug of choice.”
• The community needs to realize the opioid problem belongs to all of us, not just the addicted. The addicted will not solve the crisis, the rest of us need to.
• Americans have freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Please be professional journalists who will present facts without bias, and remember to print encouraging stories about good things the people are doing, not just the bad.
• In regard to the opiate epidemic, we need to seek an understanding of the individuals trapped in addiction rather than to judge first. Rather than asking “What is wrong with you,” we should ask “What happened to you?”
• We do recover.
Questions for reporters
• What are the statistics for Clinton County regarding the opioid epidemic?
• Why isn’t there more success stories in the paper? Spread more hope.
• Will your newspaper editor allow articles describing positive aspects of faith-based solutions without bias and without suppressing those aspects, even if they personally don’t share same beliefs? Is your journalism biased against religion?
• What is the source of the drugs? How can it be stopped?
• What is the youngest person and why aren’t they a part of the conversation?
• Have you looked into Celebrate Recovery?
• What programs are having success in our area to combat addiction?
• Have you asked the pharma companies about this epidemic?
• The State of Ohio’s education and testing standards for academics has consistently risen, but what kind of drug prevention and mental health education are they requiring? Should be a standard for drug education and it needs to be more …
• How does someone who has not been in trouble with the law get into treatment, if they have no insurance or money?
• Would you consider putting together a “forum” for recovering addicts to speak?
• Judges have discretionary sentencing that they impose for drug/prison sentences. There are questions regarding funds from the prison system going to courts as incentive to reduce sentences thus reducing prison population, i.e. funding to courts. Is this in the best interest of our communities?
• How are other communities in Ohio addressing opioid abuse? Are other states seeing a more successful approach using a different model?
• Why aren’t the county commissioners here? Why are they sitting on healthcare dollars?