Larry, a recovering addict and former drug dealer, says there aren’t enough positive stories about people working to turn their lives around. Ruth, the mother of a young woman three-years sober says opioids “are taking over” her town.
“You never know when you’re going to bury your child,” she says, her voice cracking. And with little for kids to do in her community south of Ohio’s capital Columbus, she worries it will only get worse.
While they view the problem from different lenses, they can agree that it needs to stop. Both spoke at the last of several public discussions hosted by a collaborative of news organizations across Ohio that aims to connect reporters to the concerns and hopes of the public. At each event, people break into small groups to share thoughts on what the opioid epidemic looks like in their community, its causes and potential solutions.
“There is too much hate, and not enough love,” says a thin, older women with a husky voice. Others talk about the burden widespread addiction places on community resources, how addicts themselves need to choose recovery and when they do how the community needs to recognize and support them.
One attendee asked how communities can come together to better address the problem. Gatherings like this are seen as a step in the right direction, but a small one. “We need to keep the conversation going,” says a woman who works at a local recovery center.
In states like Ohio, home to the second-highest rate of overdose deaths last year, addiction has torn apart towns without discrimination. Small, rural places feel particularly hard hit. They also feel neglected. In Washington Courthouse, where Monday’s conversation took place, an older man named Jay says the squad sirens run all day.
And so, like communities across the United States, people are coming together to search for answers. Many highlight a lack of prevention efforts or the need for better treatment and recovery options. Some say there isn’t enough information about where to go to get help, one man says small towns too often get overlooked for funding needed to address the problem adequately.
Tackle those shortfalls and things might get better. But with such a complex, emotional issue, solutions, of course, are never so simple. Karla, sober for 13 years and active in helping others in her community get clean, says she still can’t help her own children who continue to struggle with addiction.
At the end of the night attendees agreed that they had learned something new, that the discussion was fruitful. There was general agreement something needs to be done urgently, and, perhaps more importantly, that it takes a village to make a difference. Getting the village to come together will be its own challenge.