July 23, 2014

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Speakers at forum say alternative tactics needed to address growing drug epidemic

Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans discusses the heroin epidemic affecting Lorain County and the state Wednesday evening at Midview Middle School. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans discusses the heroin epidemic affecting Lorain County and the state Wednesday evening at Midview Middle School. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

GRAFTON — When Rob Brandt learned that his 20-year-old son and recovering heroin addict Robby Brandt was in the middle of East Cleveland at night in the fall of 2011, he drove through the city with a flashlight and no idea whether his son was alive or dead.

Complimentary drug tests were provided to attendees at a forum at Midview Middle School in Grafton on Wednesday.

Complimentary drug tests were provided to attendees at a forum at Midview Middle School in Grafton on Wednesday.

It wasn’t until the next morning that he learned all of his worst fears had been confirmed — his son had lost an almost 5-year-long battle with heroin addiction and died.

“That drug will chase you every day,” Brandt said at a forum about the growing heroin problem in Lorain County on Wednesday night.

Brant and other speakers, including Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans and Solace representative Kathy Loos, addressed parents, high school students and concerned citizens at Midview Middle School on Wednesday. Together they put the focus clearly on the parents, friends and family members of heroin addicts or recovering addicts.

“Many of us sit back and say, ‘Not my child,’” Brandt said, remembering how he and his wife never thought heroin addiction could touch their quiet suburban family.

Since his son’s death in 2011, Brandt has started an organization called Robby’s Voice to raise awareness about heroin addiction and provide support to families of addicts.

“Moms and dads, you are the key. You are the difference between life and death.”

The forum was one of many held in the past few months to address what is being called an “epidemic” that has struck Lorain County — and all Ohio — in recent years.

Evans is one of the people who understand the epidemic the most — having to deal with victims of drug overdoses regularly.

According to Evans, at least 67 people died from drug overdoses in 2013. It’s quite a leap from the 22 overdose-related deaths in 2011.

Lorain County Detective Greg Mehling speaks about the heroin epidemic.

Lorain County Detective Greg Mehling speaks about the heroin epidemic.

“It’s become a middle-class problem,” Evans said.

In his presentation, Evans discussed the facts of heroin addiction in Lorain County. Opiate addiction grew in the early 2000s as more doctors prescribed opiate-based pain medications like Vicodin. As many patients got addicted to pain medication, they turned to the more potent form of opiates — heroin, he said.

With the sharp increase in heroin overdoses and addiction in recent years, Evans and other speakers said attitudes about heroin addicts are changing: People are beginning to view addicts as victims of a mind-altering disease.

“We needed a paradigm shift … we can’t arrest our way out of this,” he said. It is partially due to this change in thinking about heroin addicts that Evans and other activists were able to change Ohio laws and allow first responders — like police officers — to start carrying Narcan in October. Narcan is a drug that first responders can use to revive people who have experienced opiate overdoses.

In his presentation, Evans told the crowd that the county has already been able to save 17 lives by using the drug.

Like Evans, Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services President Tom Stubor, who spoke at the meeting, tried to give the crowd — and parents especially — hope amid the fear of addiction.

“People can recover. They do get better and treatment does work,” he said.

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

COUNTY OVERDOSE DEATHS BY YEAR
2010: 22
2011: 22
2012: 60
2013: 67
SOURCE: Lorain County coroner’s office

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    Question: How many of those 171 overdose deaths in Lorain County the past 4 years began with LEGALLY prescribed pain meds?

    • Razorback Twou

      Until you’ve been there, don’t judge.You sanctimonious fool.

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        Can’t handle the question? That’s your problem.

    • Rear_View

      It’s actually a very good question… judging from the little I know about the 170 deaths, I would have to say upwards of ’75 – 80 percent’ began there ‘habit’ while being ‘weened’ off of the prescribed medication…

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        Care to share how you came up with that estimate?

  • formerlorainresident

    Probably very few, if by “legally prescribed” you mean they were taken by the person they were prescribed for to be used for the specific indicated medical purpose they were intended to treat.

    If a person stole them, lied to a physician to acquire, or the physician used poor judgement in prescribing them, this falls outside of the term “legally prescribed.”

    Interesting that this week, CVS announced that they have identified many physicians who are over-prescribing, placed their names on a list and will not allow their pharmacists to filled their prescriptions for narcotics.

    When needed, and used correctly, these products are wonderful. When prescribed indiscriminately or sold on the streets, that is illegal.

    • Larry Crnobrnja

      Yes, spot on.

  • stop ur whining

    Only change i want to see is legalization of all of them. Might as well tax it and turn drains into contributors. It may also have a great side effect. If everything is legal it will teach parents to be…dare i say parents.

    • SniperFire

      Yeah. How about some Heroin drive-thrus on every corner?

      • stop ur whining

        Fine with me. I’m not a junkie p.o.s. I have will power and have zero interest.

        • SniperFire

          LOL. Mental note to not take you seriously.

  • Americaschild

    Ask any addict–tobacco, alcohol, drugs–and each will say THEY DID IT CAUSE THEY WANTED TO STOP. Ain’t nothing you can do if they don’t want to stop.

  • Zen Grouch

    I wonder if anyone has broken the overdose death statistics into “intentional” and “unintentional” categories to better understand the problem.

    My guess is that the suicide rate is higher than the death by overdose rate, which may be masking the true number of suicides.

    Those would probably be difficult statistics to come by accurately, since family members would find some comfort in believing their loved ones didn’t intentionally take their own lives, but were somehow ‘victims’ of a greater evil. These people would probably fight tooth and nail, anyone suggesting that their loved one took the easy out and is solely responsible for the mess they left behind.

    • Den724

      I don’t believe an addict who overdoses on heroin, did so with the intent to commit suicide. They take the drug because of the high it gives them. Not being regulated can lead to taking doses that can be stronger than they expect. Knowing that it can kill you, and still using it, can be a form of suicide, but not the same as hanging yourself or shooting yourself in the head.

    • Bill

      Good question. You know some are intentional after repeated attempts to pull away from the drug just to get dragged back in and they finally can’t take the life anymore and see overdosing on purpose as the only way out.

      • Zen Grouch

        It’s a horrible spiral when someone taking heroin to forget about their f’ed up life decides to quit, just to go back to a life that’s now even more f’ed up after they sold the silverware that’s been in their mom’s family for a hundred and fifty years.

        Maybe when they take that fatal hit, they didn’t mean to, but on the other hand, they didn’t go out of their way to avoid it.

        Then there’s the whole rush that comes from cheating death, like it’s something they’d be proud to put on a resume.

        Kind of like friend who use to play Russian Roulette. He thought for sure he’d see when the bullet was about to hit the top of the cylinder.

        He knew something could go wrong, yet kept doing it for the rush. So, when he blew his brains out, I guess depending on one’s interest in things, it could be labeled suicide or accidental and either would be correct.

        • treese

          Those are all very good points you’ve made. The suffering the addict goes through is unimaginable. It’s hell that they’re trapped in.They walk a tightrope every day between life and death..Their families also walk that same walk hoping to be able to catch them when they fall.