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Advocates share ways to make a difference in opioid crisis

In the fourth installment of the Ohio Attorney General’s “Ideas” series addressing the state’s opioid crisis, guest speakers and panelists focused on the collaboration necessary to bring about addiction recovery and the latest research about the disease.

Hundreds of professionals who work with victims and survivors of opioid addiction gathered on Jan. 16 to participate in the Ohio Attorney General’s “Ideas for Advocacy” event at the 4-H Center at The Ohio State University.

“We hold these conferences specifically to try to bring people from throughout the state to share ideas,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “What we try to do in our office is be the facilitator, the catalyst.”

Despite the continued crisis, DeWine said there is reason to be hopeful.

“I don’t have to tell this group what a problem we are having in Ohio with opioid addiction,” he said. “It is the worst drug epidemic I’ve seen in my lifetime.

“The good news is that we have people out there who are working every single day who are making a difference in community after community in Ohio. If it weren’t for these grass-roots efforts, if it weren’t for people in the mental-health community, people in the addiction community, law enforcement, and educators working together at the local level, our opioid death statistics would be dramatically higher than what we are seeing today.”

In a panel discussion, advocates talked about how they are making a difference at the grass-roots level.

Jodi Salvo, coordinator for the Tuscarawas County Anti-Drug Coalition, said her group started by establishing permanent prescription drop boxes. The coalition also received a grant to purchase drug-deactivation bags and began campaigning about proper medicine disposal.
The coalition educates parents by hosting a traveling exhibit of things that might be found in a child’s bedroom that would indicate drug use or other high-risk behaviors. The group also works to build parents’ communication skills so they can effectively convey anti-drug messages. It organizes community education events that focus on treatment, recovery, and prevention. The coalition also works with schools to promote youth substance-abuse prevention.

Involving kids, Salvo said, is important to the coalition.

“If you are in a community and you have not identified youth working on this issue, you need to go find them,” she said. “In Ohio, we have the Ohio Youth-Led Prevention Network, and we have invested a lot of energy training youth to do great work around substance use and mental illness. Their voice is powerful out in the community.” 

Pastor Greg Delaney, faith partner for Ohio Attorney General’s Statewide Outreach on Substance Use, said he knows about substance abuse as a recovering addict and an advocate.
“My recovery journey, and trying to give back, started with seven guys talking about stuff and trying to help one another,” he said. “That grew into a ministry.”
Through his work, Delaney had the opportunity to work with the team from DeWine’s office. “The Attorney General asked a very simple question of faith leaders: What is the church doing to help in this problem?”
Delaney and others reached out to church leaders to see what could be done in their faith communities.
“We’ve been able through awesome relationships and great best practices to hand churches tools and opportunities to engage their communities and to start to make a difference.”

The efforts don’t have to be expensive or extensive, he said.

“Take a look at what you have in your faith community,” he said. “Maybe you’re not ready to open a sober house, but you may be able to put on a pot of coffee, open your doors, and make something available. …And then, link your effort to the efforts of others.”

Kathy Ezawa, director of the Domestic Violence Shelter Inc. in Mansfield, said the drug crisis has changed the way her shelter operates.

In 2016, there were 61 deaths in Richland County from heroin overdose; one of the people who died was in the shelter’s program.

“That really hit us hard,” she said. “Also we experienced a lot of chaos that year. It was difficult or impossible to get anyone to complete a case plan, safety plan, or exit plan. They just weren’t able to follow through on the recommendations. We were also faced with few treatment options in our community. We spent a lot of hours on the phone trying to get help for people.”

Because of the opioid epidemic, the shelter has had to change its case management procedures and increase staff training. The shelter recently added a full-time mental health counselor with experience in drugs and alcohol.

Stephen Massey, director of Journey to Freedom, a domestic violence prevention program in Springfield, and director of the Trauma Recovery Center’s Crime Victims Advocacy Program through CitiLookout Counseling Center, said he is in long-term addiction recovery and was saved by the “grace of God and the help of good people who didn’t give up” on him.

Six years ago, Massey was a community advocate who saw a need for domestic violence programs in his community.

“We went through the judges and asked them, ‘If we do this, what do you think we’ll need?’ A lot of times, we are keeping the women safe, but what are we doing to bring about change in the men?”
Journey to Freedom is a voluntary 27-week program designed to challenge negative thought processes that permit violence toward intimate partners. Massey and his wife, Melissa, work together during the program.

“We do our best to model a healthy relationship to a lot of men who have never seen one,” he said. “They see that we work though a lot of things and relationships aren’t perfect, but they can be healthy.”

At CitiLookout, one of Trauma Recovery Centers funded by a grant from the Attorney General’s Office, Massey said, a team of trauma-informed clinicians provide more than 16 weeks of counseling to survivors.

“I’m entrusted to oversee a group of advocates, and we collaborate strongly with the prosecutor’s office and the Springfield Regional Hospital,” he said. “We are able to catch victims at the point where they feel hopeless and give them hope.”

To view the materials and videos presented at the meeting, visit