December 21, 2014

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Amherst holds drug forum in response to rash of overdoses

Attendees listen to speakers at Amherst Junior High as part of the meeting Wednesday of the Amherst Community Task Force. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Attendees listen to speakers at Amherst Junior High as part of the meeting Wednesday of the Amherst Community Task Force. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

AMHERST — The rash of opiate overdoses over the course of a weekend last November shocked communities across Lorain County and, for some Amherst residents, sparked a renewed interest in putting a stop to the county’s heroin crisis.

Soon after the overdoses on the weekend of Nov. 9, which resulted in two deaths and sent more than 25 people to the hospital, community leaders and Amherst residents began forming a consortium to discuss the issue. The group, which named itself the Amherst Community Task Force, began meeting in November to come up with ideas to raise awareness about preventing heroin, opiate and other drug use by working as a community.

“We said why don’t we all sit together and talk about it,” said Todd Walts, a group organizer and Amherst resident.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans speaks at the drug forum.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans speaks at the drug forum.

Walts, along with Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans, Amherst police Officer Dan Makruski and Kathy and Jim Loos, members of Solace and co-organizers of the Task Force, led a forum at Amherst Junior High on Wednesday to raise awareness about the growing heroin dependency issue in their town and county at large.

What resulted was both a personal and professional look at the effects of drug abuse and how different parts of the community can work together to reduce overdoses.

Kathy Loos, who said that she has dealt with heroin addiction in her family, spoke about the need to work as a community to deal with the problem.

“It’s not an inner-city problem any more,” Loos said, explaining that many Amherst residents are affected by drug abuse and each parent should not only look out for their own children, but all children in the community.

Kathy and Jim Loos, of Amherst and SOLACE Lorain County, speak at the community forum.

Kathy and Jim Loos, of Amherst and SOLACE Lorain County, speak at the community forum.

Evans and Makruski, who have dealt with overdoses firsthand, stressed the need for awareness and explained how police work primarily to revive and help, rather than punish heroin users.

“We’re not looking at cops and criminals, we’re looking at lifesavers and victims,” Evans said of police who are often first responders to the scene of an overdose.

For Walts and many other members of the Amherst Drug Task Force, one of the most important aspects of the evening was to remind Amherst residents that the community must come together to end drug abuse.

“It’s your business and it’s our business,” Walts said.

The group plans to have more meetings to spread awareness and information in the future.

Contact Anna Merriman at 329-7245 or amerriman@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaLMerriman.