Judge Forchione: "Fifteen minutes can save a life. Talk to your family before heroin does."

CANTON  Stark County has made progress in the fight against opioids, but more work needs to be done to help individuals and families recover from addiction.

That was the message Thursday night at the Stop Heroin From Killing Committee’s fourth annual symposium.

More than 140 people attended the event, entitled “Your Life Matters,” at Malone University’s Johnson Center. Speakers gave an overview of the opioid crisis and talked about how to get treatment and make the transition to a life of recovery.

“Not every community believes in recovery,” said Keith Hochadel, CommQuest Services president and chief executive. “…We have let go of that stigma. We have embraced recovery.”

More than 4,000 Ohioans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including 119 in Stark, according to federal, state and local statistics. Most of those deaths involved opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl or prescription painkillers.

Final statistics for last year are being tabulated, but the Stark County Coroner’s Office counted at least 82 accidental overdose deaths in 2017. 

The community has to guard against a false sense of security just because overdose deaths were trending lower last year, Hochadel said.

“I will tell you that could change today, tomorrow or this weekend,” he warned.

In responding to the opioid crisis, the county has a developed a full continuum of care from education and prevention, to various forms of treatment including medication-assisted treatment, to community support and wide distribution of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone.

By mid-April, the county will have 130 residential beds for treatment and detox, but it needs more tools and faces competition from other counties for funding, Hochadel said.

Criminal justice crunch

Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione, who organized the Stop Heroin From Killing Committee, said he and his fellow judges use the CHANCE drug court and the Stark Regional Community Correction Center to help criminal defendants who are addicted to drugs.

But there is so much demand that it takes someone four to five weeks to get into SRCCC, a wait often spent in jail because judges fear releasing someone who could overdose and die.

Forchione said there has been talk about easing the pressure on the jail by finding a secure place to hold non-violent drug users as they wait for treatment, but that would require a facility and funding.

“We’re open to suggestions, because we obviously don’t have the answer,” Forchione said.

Finding support

SRCCC counselors Marina Craft and Annemarie Coen ended the night by explaining how individuals in recovery and their families can find support from counseling or 12-step and faith-based programs.

Having a support system increases a person’s chance of staying clean and enjoying a life in recovery after treatment.

“That’s the wonderful thing about 12-step, there’s always a hand stretching out,” Coen said.

Support groups also are important for family members, and can help them set healthy boundaries, deal with feelings of guilt and shame, and empower themselves while they accept their powerlessness over someone else’s disease, Craft said. 

“One of the most important things to know is that you’re not alone,” she said.

Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @shooverREP