Artist brings addiction awareness to Avon; local leaders try to move past awareness to recovery

Avon/Avon Lake

By Nicole Hennessy

Mannequin legs topped with hypodermic syringes climbing a ladder only to fall into a garbage can once the highest rung has been reached.

Ryan Poignon’s art installation addressing the heroin epidemic by depicting users finding a high then falling into a low went up with no warning – an intentional choice made by the artist – yesterday morning.

Poignon originally displayed the piece outside his Tiffin, Ohio, studio, where it attracted attention throughout the state, including that of Avon Councilwoman Tammy Holtzmeier, who invited him to display his work in Avon.

“Every now and again you see something that strikes a nerve. It hits you at just the right time, and it gives you a message that maybe you don’t want to hear, but nonetheless it’s needed,” Holtzmeier told Avon City Council members Monday night.

Holtzmeier said she saw the piece as a unique opportunity to encourage conversation citywide, not just among those compelled to attend addiction awareness meetings or families suffering losses and fighting to get loved ones help.

“In what other circumstance would ‘Sally’ be sharing anything about heroin unless she’s personally affected? And even then, maybe not.” Holtzmeier explained, speaking of the potential opportunity ordinary residents may get to partake in awareness building during the next two weeks.

To measure community engagement and reaction, residents are encouraged to post photos and thoughts related to the installation to social media under #FightForRecovery.

It’s been a long road from mention of the drug epidemic being a taboo subject in cities like Avon to such a public attention-grabbing display depicting the lives being ruined.

Last week, city and law enforcement officials from Avon and Avon Lake attended a summit addressing Ohio’s opioid epidemic put on in Columbus by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. This was the second year DeWine organized the event.

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka has spoken out about the issue for years, drawing criticism early on and now sinking into the uncomfortable truth that staying silent isn’t an option, but action is hard to achieve with a lack of county, state or federal funds.

This last piece – federal funding for municipalities to treat people – is a whisper Zilka heard the possibility of while in Columbus. Though, the details are vague rumors for the time being, cities impatiently await reliable news while grappling with increasing overdose deaths and drug-related crime.

Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans has seen an average of four overdose deaths per week, many of them involving the drug Fentanyl which is either mixed with heroin or used alone.

One thing is for sure, Zilka said, “You can’t arrest your way out of the problem.”

The focus has to be on treatment and education for all students in every district.

Avon has hosted several heroin forums with Assist Avon Lake. It has also participated in fundraising activities to help those in recovery.

Avon officials are currently in the planning phases of hosting a joint forum with Avon Lake.
Officials like Mayor Bryan Jensen are in the early phases of planning and completely understanding the issue.

Like Holtzmeier, he’s happy to bring the message to a broader audience, frustrated with the limited reach some official drug-related events can have, and also some of the underlying issues.

“The one thing I’m always amazed with is how much of the oxycodone and different drugs that the United States is putting into the system,” said Jensen, statistics from Columbus fresh in his mind.
“When you hear that 80 percent of all the drugs that are manufactured, in terms of opiates, come to the U.S., you’re just like, ‘What are we doing here?’”

At a recent council meeting, Zilka shared sobering statistics ahead of the Columbus meeting, like the fact California has three times more the population of Ohio, but Ohio had more opiate-related deaths in 2016 than California. Also, he said, one in nine opiate deaths in the nation occurred in Ohio last year.

Luckily, Avon and nearby communities have the resource of the Cleveland Clinic, the largest sponsor for Poignon’s installation. Other sponsors include the city itself, Assist Communities, The LACADA Way and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services of Lorain County.

The Clinic has been active recently in addressing the topic of pain management and prescriptions internally and through meetings with city leaders and community stakeholders.

Holtzmeier says the hospital will be a key partner for the city moving forward in the fight to ensure a healthy community.

Meanwhile, Poignon says he’s doing his part to bring awareness.

His hope is that people who see his piece put forth action to help addicts get into recovery, continuing to support them well into sobriety.

Other cities are currently considering displaying Poignon’s installation.

“It’s creating its own vibe or its own audience,” he said, discussing his plans to see it through before moving onto addressing other social issues, like human trafficking, all while toiling away in his studio making odds and ends, including handmade marbles and little worlds encased in burnt-out lightbulbs.

It wasn’t a particular person or circumstance that inspired Poignon to face addiction, it was the suffering of the community as a whole that not only compelled him to make this piece but alerted him to the necessity of opening the eyes of those who may be trying to look the other way.

Speaking for and as a community, he said, “We can get clean and we can recover from all of this, and hopefully it becomes a big trend, bigger than heroin itself.”

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