Belpre mother Amy Young was driving with her grandson on a Saturday morning in September when she got the call from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that her daughter Ashley had been found in Marietta, dead of an apparent methadone overdose at the age of 29.
“She was my best friend. It was devastating,” Young shared.
She was one of several people who shared their stories, raised concerns, asked questions, and put forth ideas Thursday during a community drug abuse forum at Washington State Community College.
Around 60 community members attended the forum-the eighth that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has hosted across the state in order to address Ohio’s growing drug epidemic, especially in relation to heroin.
Heroin deaths have been jumping drastically in recent years and likely surpassed 900 in 2013, said DeWine.
“We have no indication that number has even plateaued,” he said.
The goal of the community discussions, said DeWine, is to talk about what communities are already doing and share ideas about how to better address the problem.
From Young’s point of view, her daughter could have greatly benefited from an in-patient drug treatment program. But those programs are hard to find locally and even harder to afford, she said.
“She had Medicaid. If you don’t have great insurance or aren’t a millionaire, they don’t want you,” said Young.
The desire for more resources to educate, prevent and treat was a common theme throughout the forum.
Among the panel of local experts, including law enforcement, health care professionals, counselors and educators, was Adam, a recovering addict who chose to retain anonymity by not using his last name,
After stints in rehab and many nights behind bars at the Washington County Jail, Adam said he was able to find success in a treatment program in prison.
The county currently lacks the kind of targeted drug treatment program he got in prison, said Adam.
“We fail as a community if we don’t offer special accommodations-a real rehab. There is no in-patient facility,” he stressed.
Washington County Commissioner David White noted that the county budget is already strapped.
“I guess my question is, where do we focus our resources?” he asked.
Another community member pointed to the county’s former drug court program, which had been successful in the past.
The drug court is a specialty docket that allows a court to set aside time and a dedicated staff for the purpose of rehabilitating drug-related offenders.
Washington County previously ran a drug court between October 2004 to August 2008 through a federally funded grant.
The county has tried to re-establish the program but has been turned down by the state three times for a grant that would fund it.
Adam agreed that the former drug court provided good structure for struggling addicts.
One attendee, the grandmother of a heroin addict currently incarcerated in the Washington County Jail, questioned why it has taken the community so long to tackle the issue.
“Why did it take us so long to recognize this and focus some attention on it?” asked Carol Gaughan.
There have periodically been community coalitions that have formed to address the issue but their work had not yet resulted in local treatment facilities.
Gaughan’s comment echoed another over-arching theme of the forum-the need for more community involvement.
Noted Keith Tiemeyer, corporate operations director for SelfRefind, funding for programming has its limits.
“The money is going to run out. The government doesn’t have enough money for this,” he said of the drug war.
In visiting the many Suboxone clinics the company operates-in Marietta as well as multiple other Ohio and Kentucky locations-Tiemeyer said he has noticed that communities that do see great improvements are the ones who work for them.
“The energy to change has to come from within the community itself,” he said.
Athens-based obstetrics Registered Nurse Pam Born said her obstetrics clinics delivers nearly 500 babies a year with seven to 12 percent of the mothers known to have substance abuse issues.
While Born lamented things like long waiting lists for treatment programs and insurance regulations that make combined medical care and substance abuse treatment difficult, she did note that the community has been a huge factor in helping addicted mothers have a support base.
“Community people come in, teach them to scrapbook, knit….They learn to see what normal is,” she said.
Many, including Young, praised the job local law enforcement has been doing at combating drug abuse.
“I think (Washington County Sheriff) Larry Mincks is doing a great job, but I think as citizens we really need to take a stand,” she said.