Countywide initiative to fight opioid epidemic

By  | The Chronicle-Telegram
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Lorain County has declared its own war on drugs, putting the widespread opioid epidemic in its sights and lining up some heavy hitters to take aim.

Thursday evening, three powerhouse philanthropic foundations announced they are joining forces to spearhead a community coalition aimed at ending the opioid epidemic in Lorain County. The Community Foundation of Lorain County, Nord Family Foundation and Black River Education and Wellness Foundation put out a call to action in its announcement of the countywide initiative.

With flexibility unlike government entities and the ability to secure funding without strings attached and to convene stakeholders across the continuum of services including law enforcement, education and treatment, foundation leaders believe the coalition is what Lorain County needs to solve the problem that in 2016 claimed 132 lives and resulted in $200 million in economic impact.

“We see it in all of our cities, villages and townships. We see it with our friends and in our neighborhoods because the effect is everywhere,” said Cindy Andrews, the Community Foundation’s president and CEO. “An epidemic of this magnitude demands equal action. This partnership is about fighting back. … A comprehensive effort is needed to address this epidemic.”

John Mullaney, executive director of Nord Family Foundation, said a small group has been working in the background for months to create the framework for the county coalition as well as gather the information needed to make data-driven decisions. Nord Family Foundation used a health research and consulting firm, Altarum, to conduct a community assessment that revealed some startling facts about Lorain County’s drug problem.

Community members gathered at the Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center, where the data was released to the public for the first time. The complete research report is available at, a website that launched Wednesday.

Here are a few takeaways from the report:

  • Prescription opioid misuse and abuse in Lorain County is 2.5 times the national average.
  • Heroin use is more than double the U.S. average.
  • Opioid use contributed to 2,691 emergency department visits in Lorain County in 2016.

“We have a real problem,” said Dr. Don Sheldon, past University Hospitals regional president and past president of University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center. Sheldon is leading the coalition.

Sheldon said the foundations are not trying to replace or displace any organization on the ground doing the work — there are an estimated 18 organization providing substance use treatment and recovery services in Lorain County. However, research is showing that Lorain County is lacking a coordinated, comprehensive approach.

“There are a lot of great agencies and a lot of great people doing fantastic work,” he said. “With all this going on, how come we are still losing the race?”

This week has provided evidence of how Lorain County is working to battle drugs in the community. Elyria Schools staged a presentation Tuesday to help parents identify the signs of drug use and the ways their children could hide that drug use. A Road to Hope, a local recovery housing program, received state funding Tuesday to buy and renovate an Oberlin home for women in recovery, and Community Foundation announced that same day it was awarding $159,000 to The LCADA Way to fund medical personnel to work in the agency’s medication assistance program.

So what’s next? That’s what the community leaders wanted to know as they absorbed the data and heard the call to action Thursday.

The recommendations include developing a completely comprehensive approach that includes prevention, detox, treatment, recovery supports and hard reduction. Sheldon said the work will take years, and an impartial coordinating entity will facilitate the collaborative efforts.

Sheldon said there are some radical approaches other communities are taking that Lorain County may not be ready for but should consider, such as needle-exchange programs and safe-use locations. Also, Lorain County doesn’t have a facility dedicated to inpatient detox.

Sheldon said down the road the coalition could aim to push a county funding issue, but he said he knows it would be a hard fight that will take significant community buy-in to work. A 2017 ballot initiative for drug treatment failed.

“But when you see the economic burden this is causing the county, that alone makes it work the fight,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.

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