COLUMBUS — Don’t underestimate the power of youth to fight the current opioid epidemic — especially young people who are compassionate and involved in their communities.
On Dec. 2, about 50 4-H and FFA members from around the state gathered in Columbus to learn more about Ohio’s opioid crisis, and how they can get involved.
This wasn’t the typical “stay away from drugs and pills” lecture, although those principles were part of the program. Instead, the day went much deeper, with presentations by recovering drug addicts, law enforcement and state government leaders, who pointed out the ways that 4-H and FFA members can make a difference in their own community.
A big thing is to speak up if you’re struggling with drugs, or you notice someone else struggling, said Wayne Campbell, who lost his son, Tyler, to an overdose in 2011.
“It could save your life, or the life of someone you love.”
Tyler was a Division I football player at the University of Akron. He became addicted following a shoulder surgery, when a doctor prescribed him opioid-based pain relievers.
Related: See our series from 2017 titled Rural Addiction.
Campbell now travels the nation speaking about his son’s life and addiction, and warning youth and adults about the danger of prescription pain medicine.
“We are in the middle of an epidemic and it’s the worst epidemic in U.S. history when it comes to losing lives to drugs,” he said.
Last year, 4,050 Ohioans died from drug overdoses, and Ohio now leads the nation in drug-related deaths.
Campbell said there are six main reasons that students experiment with drugs: rebellion against parents, curiosity or boredom, emotional problems, the appeal of getting high, and, at the top, peer pressure.
Takes a village
Greg Delaney, a pastor who serves as a faith partner for the Drug Outreach Team for attorney generals in Ohio and West Virginia, said beating addiction takes a community effort, and that the community needs to be compassionate.
“Opiate disease is a disease of isolation that requires a community response,” he said. “And when a community rallies around that, those are the positive messages that keep you going.”
Delaney said churches in general need to stop judging drug users and start looking for ways to help.
“Don’t start with judgment; start with opening your arms and asking ‘how can I help you,’” he said.
Agent Scott Duff, who works on narcotics-related investigations for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, said law enforcement has to continue to evolve its approach to drugs, and law officers need to work with local faith groups and community to form a joint effort.
When asked about administering Naloxone, the emergency drug administered to reverse an overdose, Duff said it’s been used to save lives and he believes it should continue being used.
Duff was specifically asked whether he would support a two-strike rule, or limiting the number of times a drug user can be brought back.
But he said that someone who has a different disease, such as diabetes or a heart disease, should not be limited to two or three resuscitations, and neither should drug users.
“Had we not had Naloxone in 2016, our numbers would have been apocalyptic in terms of people dying, and I don’t feel that is what we really, truly want,” Delaney added.
Talking from experience
In the afternoon, three individuals recovering from addiction through Narcotics Anonymous talked about their experiences, and the difference counseling and community support has made.
Megan P., 20, said she had a great family upbringing and at one time considered herself “that typical, All-American Ohio girl” who was about to graduate from college and accept a good job.
Her brother became addicted first, and she recounted how she was angry at him for embarrassing the family and for not getting over his habit. Then, she found herself in the same situation.
“I didn’t realize anything about addiction until it hit me in the face a few years later,” she said.
Although she is no longer using drugs, Megan said she still needs to attend counseling and treatment sessions to keep control of her life. She said addiction is similar to other diseases, in that once you get it under control, you still need to keep up with the treatment.
The event was organized by OSU Extension and Ohio 4-H, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and other partners committed to community action.
A group of students from London High School FFA said the topic has been discussed in their school, and they came to learn more about what they can do. A big take-away, they said, is that teamwork is needed.
In closing, Dave Kohout, an inspirational speaker with Talk is Cheap, said there are a lot of things that brought on the addiction epidemic — family struggles, emotional and physical pain.
He said that today’s youth are not worse than previous generations; they’re just making poor decisions.
Kohout reminded everyone that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. We need to be as sharp as we can be against this epidemic and we’re going to need everybody working arm-in-arm to beat it.”