Every day, 78 Americans die from an opiate overdose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the number of fatal overdoses in Ohio that involved heroin soared from 87 in 2003 to 1,424 last year.
Huron County is fighting back. Working with Norwalk government and community leaders, Fisher-Titus Medical Center and members of the Imagine a Drug-Free Community Task Force have planned “An Afternoon of Inspiration and Hope” from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2.
The afternoon will kick off with a Walk for Recovery from the Fisher-Titus Patient Pavilion to Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at Norwalk High School. Registration begins at noon, with the walk starting at 12:30 p.m. The rest of the afternoon will be devoted to inspiring testimonials and talks. Participants also will be able to interact with addiction specialists and learn about the many local resources available to help individuals and families affected by this epidemic.
We sat down with Fisher-Titus Medical Center President and CEO Lorna Strayer to discuss the epidemic—and the active role Fisher-Titus is taking to fight it.
How do you, as a hospital, begin to deal with the opiate epidemic?
We are working together and collaborating within the community to address mental health issues and access of care issues. Because they do tend to go hand in hand with the opiate epidemic. Generally speaking, individuals who seek opiates and develop that addiction tend to have mental health issues. We are developing a service plan based on available mental health services in the community.
How do you, as the leader of a hospital, view addiction?
We look at the addiction issue as very much larger than a single medical issue. It really is a public health issue that must be broken into subtopics and tackled. For instance, transportation, jobs, family issues … those types of things. We also very much see that we need to focus on education and getting materials in the hands of families and schools. We need to support children and families.
How can we, as a community, help those in recovery?
After detox and active treatment, recovery services become necessary. Supportive living communities and support groups become so important. We really look at it as creating access points in a variety of arenas to support individuals with addictions. I think it's bigger than simply three to five days of detoxification and becoming free of the drug. It's so very challenging to get back to normalcy. From my point of view, that's what makes it a public health issue. A lot of avenues need to be developed as assets to support individuals and families—not just a single asset.
How has the community, as a whole, responded to this epidemic?
We have tremendous support across the community and I think that's just something that's very unique about the greater Huron County area. Individuals do work together extremely well and collaborate extremely well. I would not call this a Fisher-Titus initiative as much as a formative group of very interested individuals and organizations that want to pool resources in order to effectively address the issues. I want to especially thank Norwalk Councilman Chris Castle, State Rep. Terry Boose and local businessmen Skip Wilde and David Wallace. They are community-minded individuals who simply wanted to roll up their sleeves and bring folks together in a meaningful way. It was the coming together of those individuals that really started things rolling here in Huron County.
Do any stories you’ve heard stand out to you?
Yes—Ashley Pugh Morrow. She’s a recovered addict who will be sharing her story at our forum on Oct. 2. It’s such a gripping story because she was, in my mind, like any child in our community. She was not someone who I considered at risk. She was a popular, everyday high school student who had early experiences with recreational drugs and then it just escalated. I think one of the most moving parts of her testimony was when the police officer interviewing her asked if there was anything that she wanted to tell other kids. She said, "When you're a teenager, you don't think your parents have your best interests at heart. I just wish I had listened to my mom.” It touched me as a mother and it touched me as someone who knows her mother and the pain that the family went through and the wonderful support they provided her through her recovery process. It made me realize how multi-dimensional this issue is.
What lesson did you take away from that story?
I know the path this family took to make sure that Ashley had a full recovery. It just reminds me of the power that we have as individuals to support each other and to make sure that every individual who has an issue has some path they can follow.
What can individuals who care about this issue do?
One of the reasons we feel it's so important to have a community forum is so that we can identify opportunities for a call to action. We want to present an opportunity for individuals to get on board and find where you, as a community member or as an organization, have the best match.
Can you give us an example of how that might work?
A church community or a faith-based community can reach out to families and match them up with an individual who is very desirous of a support network. We're really looking at being able to identify individuals who feel they can make an impact and rallying the effort across the community so that we have many, many rich resources to offer.
To learn more, make sure to attend our forum, “An Afternoon of Inspiration and Hope” from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2. It is sure to be a memorable event.