By Amanda Joerndt
The Trumbull and Mahoning Counties have dealt with devastating losses and challenges from the opioid epidemic in recent years, but in 2018 a beacon of hope emerged with the reported decrease of opioid deaths in the area. Now, community members question whether 2019 will be just as successful.
During the rise of opioid use and other designer drugs, the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board took action on the crisis.
The community worked together to provide several programs throughout the school districts and worked with major agencies to provide services and addiction programs to those in need.
According to the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board reports, a 275 percent increase occurred from the year 2012 to 2017. The biggest incline of reported deaths was from 2016 to 2017 with a 35 percent increase.
The reports stated from 2017 to 2018, there was a 44 percent decrease in deaths throughout the county, showing signs of optimism for the future.
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, works around the clock with the board, police departments and program directors to fight the battle and bring the reported amount of deaths down.
She made the Trumbull County Opiate Action Plan 2017-2019, which focuses on several objectives that will help combat the issue such as “reduce drug trafficking, reduce drug overdoses and deaths, enhance the capacity and funding for accredited drug treatment centers and increase supports for first responders.”
Caraway held a meeting with the community to figure out what needs to be done to overcome the epidemic.
“We sat down with everyone a couple years ago and asked them, ‘What do you need to help you do your job better to deal with this crisis?’” she said. “Police officers wanted more officers, agencies wanted more money for increased services, and the health department started their Project DAWN: Deaths Avoided With Naloxone program with Narcan kits.”
Caraway said when the Trumbull County Mental Health Board noticed the amount of deaths increasing each year, she knew something needed to be done.
“We really started to pay attention around 2015, and 2016 is when we started all these efforts. We had a lot of state help like Medicaid expansion,” she said. “That was a huge game changer because so many people in the system do not have access to medical care and couldn’t get treatment.”
The Mahoning County Overdose Surveillance Report of January 2018 states from 2010-2015, Mahoning County was ranked seventh in the state for unintentional drug overdose rates.
Caraway said other drugs are starting to take a major role in drug overdose deaths.
“Crack and meth are starting to take a role in this epidemic. Five percent of the 135 deaths last year were from heroin only. The rest were meth and fentanyl, everything with fentanyl in it,” she said. “We’re seeing such an increase in meth and crack and we need to be able to fund those things as well … drug addiction is addiction and it has to be open to everything.”
Programs through local school districts that brought awareness to the epidemic, along with prevention centers for people who are battling addiction, have been major contributors for the death decrease.
Caraway said the surveys provided in the schools are helping bring awareness to the epidemic through the students’ perspective.
“We provide surveys in the schools that measure perception of harm and use. Our use rates for alcohol, tobacco and marijuana all went down last year,” she said. “That’s hopeful that we’ve invested evidence based programming so what we’re doing is making an impact.”
Several programs are provided for people in the area battling addiction including ASAP: Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, Project DAWN: Deaths Avoided With Naloxone and First Step Recovery.
Drug drop-off boxes are located throughout Trumbull and Mahoning Counties for residents to dispose of drugs they want to keep out of reach of other family members, specifically children.
While working against the epidemic is a challenge for Caraway and has affected her personally, it inspires her to help the residents of Trumbull County receive the best service possible.
“I take calls throughout the weekend if people are in crisis and get them the treatment they need. It’s a calling for me and I like what I do but it’s hard,” she said. “I know so many people who have either died or lost a loved one to the opioid epidemic. It’s really hard for anyone in this field.”
According to Caraway, the media has been a huge outlet that allows them to spread the word about the epidemic and the services offered to the community.
“Stigma was a big problem with people and their families not getting help, so we’re doing a lot of marketing through the media saying it’s okay to get help.”
Caraway said she’s hopeful that 2019 will be even more successful with the decline of reported deaths.
“Three years ago, we didn’t have any detox beds in Trumbull County, now we have 32. Three years ago, I had people on a waitlist for 10 days, now I can get people in the same day,” she said. “We reduced it from 2017 to 2018 by 44 percent, and it would be nice to see that reduction this year again.”
The police departments in Trumbull County are taking action through their services to help the epidemic and the addicts involved in the crisis.
Toby Meloro, chief of the Liberty Township Police Department, works with the community and the police officers to help take charge with the crisis in Trumbull County.
“We’re trying to be more proactive. People that take heroin and don’t die, we take them back and we actually charge that person,” he said. “We want to get them into some type of rehab or program to help them in the system to get off the addiction because it’s a disease.”
According to Melora, the drug court plays a role in making addicts get the right treatment.
“There’s always issues with drugs and about 80 percent of our drugs involve some type of addiction. I think there’s always signs of hope,” he said. “I know our drug court is very active in it and it’s helped attack it from all angles.”
Ally Anastis, patrolwoman of Liberty Township, deals with the drug overdoses and addictions on a daily basis throughout the county.
She said one of the biggest solutions to helping drug addicts overcome the epidemic is to make them get treatment and attend programs through the county.
“I think that’s part of the whole movement, to get the people with the problem treatment,” Anastis said. “Obviously getting treatment is a way to reduce the number of people that have addiction problems. Whether they act on it or not, that’s up to them.”