Seven years after Tyler's Light started a "community awareness" race to combat substance abuse, organizers say it's as relevant as ever.

The seventh annual Tyler's Light 5K Run/Walk, is scheduled for May 5 at Toll Gate Middle School, 12183 Toll Gate Road, Pickerington.

For those who register before April 10, the cost to run or walk in this year's event is $30 for adults and $15 for students.

Proceeds will help support drug prevention and awareness in Pickerington Local School District middle schools, as well as Drug Free Clubs at the district's two high schools.

Registration can be completed at runsignup.com/tylerslight. Information about the event is available at tylerslight.com.

The 5K Run/Walk generates about $15,000 annually, allowing the organization to pay $50 toward every Pickerington high school student's Drug Free Club membership, lowering each student's cost to $20.

Tyler's Light president Wayne Campbell said student programs are more important than ever as Ohio and the nation continue to lose ground in the fight against drugs, particularly opiates.

According to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016 Ohio ranked second in the nation with the rate of deaths due to drug overdoses, at 39.1 per 100,000. Only West Virginia, at 52 per 100,000, was higher.

Nationwide, the CDC reports opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, and opioid overdoses were five times higher in 2016 than 1999.

"Public awareness is key to changing the face of drug addiction in our society," Campbell said.

"Through public awareness events, we can give voice to those who have passed away and help their loved one's recover."

Campbell, whose 23-year-old son, Tyler, died from an overdose in 2011, said similar tragedies have played out in Pickerington and nearby communities numerous times since Tyler's Light was founded in 2011.

He said the 5K Run/Walk has seen participation drop from a record 1,600 in 2012, to an average of about 800 participants but that it remains a vital way for Tyler's Light to promote drug prevention and awareness in schools.

"We do this because the opiate epidemic has not slowed down, but has increased in magnitude," he said.

"Unfortunately, most parents choose to not talk about it because of the stigma associated with addiction.

"Luckily some choose to pay forward and try to prevent it from happening to another family."

Participants will receive a T-shirt and "swag bag" from OhioHealth, and will be entered into a raffle for a 50-inch, flat-screen television.

The event will feature a "Kids Korner" with supervised arts, crafts and other activities for children.

In conjunction with the 5K Run/Walk, Pickerington High School North, 7800 Refugee Road, will host a food truck festival featuring Nashville singer Shane Runion, a multitude of food offerings and activities from noon to 6 p.m.

"The objective of this festival is to target our younger students in grades pre-K-8 and to target our community members that may not know anything about the (high school) Drug Free Clubs," said Alicia Newbury, a Drug Free Club adviser at Pickerington High School North.

"Our event will have numerous food trucks, inflatables, music, a few carnival games, face paint, henna, temporary tattoos and vendors.

"We are also putting together a sand volleyball tournament for our North & Central students."

Campbell and Columbus Division of Police Commander Gary Cameron said people should take part in the 5K Run/Walk to support the school-based drug prevention clubs and education, which they believe teach children to combat peer pressure.

"The No. 1 reason our youth say they will try drugs and alcohol is peer pressure," Cameron said. "That hasn't changed in 50 years.

"The concept of our Drug Free Clubs is to give them an 'out' in tough situations with their peers.

When they sign up for the club with authorization from their parents, they have a viable reason to say, 'Sorry, I can't. I could be tested tomorrow.'"

Campbell said the 5K Run/Walk also ensures voices of those seeking to keep young people and loved ones from drug addiction are heard by community leaders and policy makers.

He said fighting substance abuse strengthens communities by maintaining educational values, yielding safer neighborhoods and protecting property values.

"When we started Tyler's Light, the term 'opiate epidemic' was unheard of and our children were dying in the shadows of addiction," Campbell said. "Today, our political leaders can no longer ignore this tragedy.

"If we value human life and the safety of our community, this is an easy event to support," he said.

"If we can come to grips with looking at addiction as a disease and not moral failure or a character flaw, we can discuss it openly and support prevention and treatment like we do for cancer and other diseases."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate