Preventing substance abuse and identifying solutions for treatment for those who suffer from addiction was the focus of "Opioids: What We Need to Know," an April 10 town hall meeting at Columbus School for Girls.
The event's purpose was to raise awareness that suburbs such as Bexley are vulnerable to the opioid epidemic that has devastated other communities across Ohio and the nation, Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said.
"We're talking about the opioid epidemic tonight, but all of this needs to fall under the umbrella of substance abuse and the thought of how do we model ourselves as parents, how do we model ourselves as leaders in the community and what are ways that seem kind of small, but really point to a greater truth?" he said.
The town hall included information booths with representatives from healthcare providers and addiction counselors.
"It's so important that you leave this event having learned valuable information and perhaps be prepared to be ambassadors for the cause," Bexley City Council President Lori Ann Feibel told the audience of about 60 people.
Presenters included Derek Siegle, executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area; Tia Moretti, director of Recovery Ohio; Whitehall Assistant Fire Chief Christopher Menapace; and Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz.
Ortiz shared data indicating that while drug overdose deaths in Bexley's 43209 ZIP code are relatively rare, the number of drug-related deaths is increasing. She said the data emphasizes the need to raise awareness about the dangers of opioids and how to prevent and treat addiction.
"There were a total of three overdose deaths for Bexley in 2017," Ortiz said. "By 2018, however, it increased to 12, so that's four times the number."
Bexley residents Ellen Schoonover, Elliot Good and Sharon Parsons each spoke about the grief of losing a child to opioid-related overdose deaths and offered advice for other parents to prevent such tragedies.
Schoonover said in hindsight, she wouldn't have punished her late son, Matt, when she found out he was using drugs, but would have increased communication with him, offered him more support and educated herself about addiction.
"I would have realized that every kid is at risk, by virtue of being a kid," Schoonover said. "I would have read everything out there, so as to be proactive instead of reactive."
Good, whose late son, Andrew, was an athlete, coach and special-education teacher, said he realizes that many student athletes are at risk for addiction because of the medications they take for sports-related injuries.
"He was able to get pills to absolve his pain," Good said of his son. "It became very insidious. It's an addiction."
Parsons, who is a dentist, said since she lost her son, Sean, to an overdose in December 2015, she has worked to educate other healthcare providers about the addictive nature of medications that contain opioids.
"It doesn't depend on where you live in town," she said. "It's not the person under the bridge. It could happen to anyone."
Lori Posivil, a representative with Drug Safe Worthington, shared strategies that the organization employs to educate the community about preventing substance abuse among youth. Parents, school officials and community members should be aware of the drug paraphernalia that can hide substance use, such as pipes and needles disguised as pens, markers and other everyday items.
"Being in the schools, we have so much more to do. It's not just opiates" that cause youth to become addicted, Posivil said. "We have a lot of battles to fight, but we can do it together."
For more information about substance-abuse prevention and treatment, visit the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services' website, mha.ohio.gov.