COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office hosted its second annual symposium on fighting the drug epidemic in Ohio on Tuesday. More than 1,200 members of law enforcement, educators, social services and other community organizations from 80 of 88 counties and eight states attended the sessions held at Fellowship Baptist Church in eastern Columbus.
The “Ideas in Motion” workshop featured speakers from school superintendents, drug free organizations, school resource officers, clergy and law enforcement to share ideas on how they are battling the opiate and drug epidemic in their own communities.
DeWine said his goal for the symposium was for community leaders and organizations to be able to take back at least one idea to their community to help combat the drug epidemic in Ohio.
“The way we can address this epidemic is at the grassroots level,” said DeWine during his opening address Tuesday. “There’s good news and bad news. Bad news (is) I don’t think we have reached bottom yet … but there is good news and hope. There’s a lot of good people doing a lot of great things in this state today.”
DeWine said eight Ohioans died a day of accidental overdoses in 2015 — one every three hours — and the numbers are increasing.
Mount Carmel Health medical personnel held a special session for pastors and clergy on how to administer Narcan to victims they may minister in their community.
The symposium also presented experts on how to implement a wide variety of drug prevention tools and education for their community’s youth and DARE officers. Last week, DeWine presented the joint study on K-12 drug prevention education.
In attendance at the meeting from Shelby County were Chief William Balling, Capt. Bill Shoemaker, Sgt. Rob Jameson, Detective Aaron Wesbecher and Officer Mike McRill, all of the Sidney Police Department; Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst, Shelby County commissioner Bob Guillozet, United Way Executive Director Scott Barr, Julie Clay of Shelby County Counseling, and Diann Rodrigues, Shelby County DD.
“I talked to several school superintendents about the programs they have in their schools,” said Balling of the fight against drugs. “I was impressed that, with all the tests the state requires their students to take, that they have dedicated classroom time to educate the students about the dangers of drugs.”
Balling said the city and county is making progress against the drug epidemic, but there’s still much work to be done.
The Sidney, Police Department, he said, was featured in two of the segments of the program. The department was included in a video about how law enforcement deals with trauma. McRill shared his personal story of his post-traumatic stress experience with the audience. The video began the session based on the impact of trauma in the criminal justice system and first responders.
The second program, said Balling, was “The Impact of One,” and also featured McRill and what he is doing in the community.
“This program told about how one person can make a difference,” said Balling. “What Mike is doing in our community does make a difference.”
Guillozet said he was surprised when McRill was featured in two of the segments.
“He did a nice job,” said Guillozet. “I think it was well received. His message was clear — everybody is affected by this (heroin epidemic) whether is the police officer on the street (responding to calls) or the newspaper reporter writing about it.”
Guillozet said there is no “magic bullet to end this problem. We have to attack the problem. We can do this through education so people understand how deadly this (drug) is.”
“Education awareness is important,” Guillozet said. “It needs to be taught from kindergarten on up. The kids are seeing it at home even before they are starting school. Education is the key. We need to educate early and go right up to high school and college.”
Balling said it’s going to take everyone working together to rid the city of its drug problem.
“We must continue to work hard at all levels to help make a difference in the fight against opioid abuse,” said Balling. “Everyone will need to work together, put their personal agendas aside, and roll up their sleeves to help us educate our community about this deadly drug, enforce our laws and prevent all of the tragic deaths due to this deadly drug. We can do it, but we must do it together.”
Guillozet also said the location of Shelby County — on Interstate 75 and just north of Interstate 70 — plays a role in the county’s drug epidemic.
“We’re on the I-75 pipeline from one end of the state to the other. Then you have I-70 going the other direction. We are right in the crossroads,” Guillozet said.
And stopping the drug pipeline will require everyone to work together, he said.
Troy Police Department Capt. Joe Long and Capt. Shawn McKinney and Troy Fire Department Chief Matthew Simmons attended the conference.
“Other communities are having the same issues we are having, and we’re seeing how they are trying to solve similar issues in their community,” Long said. “Each and everyone of us will walk back with some sort of idea to bring back to our community.”
“My hope was to get some ideas to bring back to Troy to help deal with the problems we have,” McKinney said.
McKinney added that he believed some of DeWine’s points were debatable, especially in terms of how addicts are becoming hooked on opiates.
Simmons shared he’ll be speaking at the University of Cincinnati later this spring to Ohio City Managers about the Quick Response Team (QRT), which was established last summer and began its mission last October. Simmons said he’ll have final numbers of the number of overdose victims the QRT visited by the end of the week. The QRT consists of a fire department member, a clergy or addiction specialist and police officer.
“With our program, I think our guys are saying, ‘Hey, our administration and city leaders are trying to do something innovative but also we’ve piloted a program not many other cities have,’” Simmons said. Simmons said paramedics will note victims who seem to be open to help from the QRT to help them find help for their additions.
Other communities have implemented its own Quick Response Team much like the city of Troy started last summer.
“We are doing stuff in our city for this, and I’m here to see what the rest of the state is looking at and see what we can do to improve or see what other people doing,” Simmons said Tuesday. “Throughout the state we have been contacted by several fire departments to see what model we are using.”
Both Simmons and McKinney said they were impressed with the idea of the Drug Free student-led initiative shared by Chris Scott, chairman of the Ross County Drug Free Clubs of American, during the drug prevention education in school and communities session.
The program is based on students who take drug free pledges, backed by drug testing donated by the local hospital. The club kicked off last fall at the local county fair. The students join the club after signing the pledge and will act as peer advocates to encourage other students to be drug-free. Scott said the group is a low budget program with T-shirts and donated items like homework and sport passes from schools and items from local businesses who donated to support for the drug-free club’s activities.
Sidney Daily News Editor Melanie Speicher contributed to this report.