Lorain County coalition is best effort to fight opioid crisis | Editorial

The new collaborative effort that aims to assist Lorain County’s efforts to fight the heroin epidemic is welcome news to the community that has been so struck so hard by this crisis.

Three Lorain County foundations — The Nord Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of Lorain County and the Black River Education and Wellness Foundation — announced Jan. 25 at Lorain County Community College in front of about 150 people the creation of the Philanthropic and Community Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic to fight addiction and its effects.

The Coalition hopes to coordinate efforts of local nonprofits, businesses, health care organizations, governments, law enforcement and community groups to boost the battle against opiate addiction.

Its mission is simple: “To protect our community from further human devastation and the significant economic burden of the opioid epidemic.”

This is likely the best solution to come along in a long time to address, and hopefully, end this epidemic.

But it’s going to take money — and lots of it.

For starters, the three foundations will commit financial support and serve as members of the coalition.

Dr. Donald Sheldon, former regional president for University Hospital and UH Elyria Medical Center, who is the face of the coalition, said many of the key players already have invested several years fighting the overdoses and social effects of heroin and opioid drugs.

What’s new here is the level of coordination and the financial commitment of the foundations.

Sheldon said, “We’ve been losing this race long enough. It’s time to win the race. This is all in. Everybody’s in.”

The three foundations wanted to explore the facts and come up with solutions to the problem and commissioned a study.

Altarum, a health research firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., compiled the study called “The Community Assessment of the Opioid Crisis in Lorain County, Ohio.”

Altarum and the document will guide the effort.

Findings and recommendations are listed in “The Community Assessment.”

Lorain County logged 132 opioid deaths and 2,691 opioid-related emergency room visits in 2016.

Based on the data, it appeared the county in 2016 had an estimated 6,398 people with opioid use disorders and up to 35,186 residents – more than 10 percent of the county’s population – misusing opioids that year.

But two other findings were startling.

Prescription opioid misuse and abuse in Lorain County is 2.5 times the national average.

Along with lives lost and families affected, that translates to a total economic burden on Lorain County estimated at $200 million in 2016.

Sheldon begrudgingly admits that the crisis likely has touched every member of the community.

And that’s why this effort must succeed.

It’s going to take a lot of work.

Dustin Braley, a men’s counselor for The LCADA Way, a Lorain-based agency for education, prevention and treatment of alcohol abuse, substance abuse and behavioral health issues, said it is possible for drug users to get help.

Braley knows what he’s talking about; he had his own 15-year struggle with addiction.

He said he first encountered prescription painkillers while treating an ankle he rolled playing basketball.

Later, as he pursued his dream to become a master chef, Braley said a coworker first gave him the drug Vicodin to help ease the aches and pains of long hours on his feet.

What started as relief for physical ailments became a way to get through the day ­— and eventually landed him in prison for a year.

As he began to turn his life around, Braley studied at LCCC and became a counselor.

He also attested to the lack of available beds in residential treatment centers for those who need help.

Braley’s knowledge will assist the coalition.

As for the coalition, it has three goals: the reduction of deaths and overdoses in Lorain County; the establishment of a coordinated, accessible system that educates people about the disease, prevents it and treats it effectively when it happens; and the reduction of the annual economic burden impacting Lorain County citizens and businesses.

The coalition will have six work teams focusing on education and prevention; treatment and recovery; criminal justice and law enforcement; health care and harm reduction; and surveillance and evaluation of data.

Team members are local experts working in those fields.

The coalition realizes solving the problem will not happen overnight.

But the coalition is on the right track for success.

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