Pathways forward in opioid fight are paved with data


LORAIN COUNTY – We use data for almost everything we do: find the nearest gas station or café, view medical records or track crime statistics. This list is nearly endless.

So, why not use data to fight the opioid crisis?

The epidemic is currently killing an average of two Lorain County residents each week. In 2016, one in nine drug-related deaths in the nation occurred in Ohio, which leads the nation in opioid deaths. Nationally, at least 11 people die of a drug-related death each day.

To combat the crisis, Lorain County is taking the lead by working to implement a “treatment infrastructure” with the help of big data companies, such as Google. The Northeast Ohio data firm Onix also is involved. The intended outcome is a network of gears spinning in unison to attack addiction from all angles.

How will it work?

A central repository of collected and up-to-date information will be accessible to for-profit organizations, like treatment centers and companies that provide frameworks to combat the epidemic; government regulated entities, like the Department of Health and Mental Health and Addiction Services; and Medicaid, which currently accounts for about half of Ohio’s budget, but is under attack at the federal level. Also involved is Veterans Affairs; and community groups, including churches, civic groups, grassroots recovery groups, and short-term resources, like intervention specialists or peer recovery support.

Peer recovery support, which is a large part of the county’s plan, is exactly what it sounds like: individuals in recovery from addiction or mental health helping those in need of support. The Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County is beginning to offer peer recovery training.

Groups like Recovery is Beautiful — one of those firms that provides frameworks to communities organizing its recovery assets — offers solutions as outside-the-box as training bartenders in peer support. The organization also works to share positive recovery stories in an effort to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction and to spread the acceptance that these are chronic diseases.

Grassroots groups at the county level are also offering support.

For instance, anyone seeking help can walk into a police station at any time, no questions asked, and get to treatment, a sober house or any other appropriate program.

Let’s Get Real, a community support group, which is on-call 24/7 to support individuals seeking help. On average, a group member is able to get to any police station within an hour and a half of a call, day or night. In one year, group members have responded to 40 calls.

At an ASSISTcommunities conference last week, stakeholders met to unveil these initiatives; and to share some recovery stories, screening a short documentary called “Recovery is Possible.”

Avon Lake High School 2008 grad Megan Fisher sat in the front row of Avon Lake Public Library’s meeting room, joined by her mom, Karen Hughes, and about 40 recovery advocates.

The two whispered to each other, smiling at uncomfortable stories that are now in the past, as Hughes retold the typical downward spiral of her daughter’s heroin addiction, and the patterns and behaviors that lead her there.

ASSIST’s founder Jim Coyne started the group initially as a clearinghouse of recovery resource information — basically, the analog version of the infrastructure currently being implemented. Coyne, who now works for Onix, said the goal is for Lorain County to pilot this network, which could eventually spread to include the whole state.

While the focus is at the grassroots level; there is some funding involved.

The Nord Family Foundation recently invested $200,000 so the county could audit its available resources. The state’s Third Frontier Commission chipped in $20 million this year to back technologies and medical initiatives designed to promote recovery. There are also the law enforcement grants: a $137 million Department of Justice hiring program. Lastly, the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine recently announced $3 million in funding that will go to response teams comprised of law enforcement and drug treatment providers.

Preparing for more government funding that is anticipated to come into the state — a result of the federal government designation of Lorain County (one of 13 Ohio counties) as a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking area — the County  Commissioners have set up a central operations center for local law enforcement, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the county’s drug task force.

Echoing a statement now commonly uttered by law enforcement and other officials, County Commissioner Matt Lundy said, “This isn’t an issue you’re going to arrest your way out of.”

Each of these resources and others, such as schools and regional hospital systems, like The Cleveland Clinic, must be paired with relentless education at all age levels, as well as a continued campaign to share positive recovery stories, like those highlighted in Recovery is Possible, and in Fisher’s book: “The Faces of Addiction.”

A theme that came up repeatedly at the ASSIST event was pathways. Creating pathways to recovery. Pathways between resources. Between stakeholders. Connecting those who’ve lost loved ones or whose loved ones continue to struggle.

At no point was there silence or a lack of focus. The path forward is clear, and throughout the evening, ideas kept coming. Yet another ASSIST project to come out is being called JASON or Just Assist Someone Now — a call to action designed to foster relationships throughout the community, which may also be the name of the data project Coyne is working on with Google.

Coyne echoed other advocates, stating the ultimate test of success will be when community members can talk openly about addiction and feel confident confronting colleagues or friends who may be struggling. Advocates also have the goal of breaking down negative or dehumanizing attitudes toward addiction and those suffering with the disease.

Education initiatives and peer support training will help give confidence to people “reaching out to someone in pain and not feeling like you’re being a nuisance.”

“Small moves can make a great change,” said Coyne.

Peer recovery support training

The Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County has a few spots left for its upcoming peer recovery support training. Those interested in applying must be Lorain County residents in recovery from substance abuse and/or mental health concerns. The training will result in a state certification in peer recovery support. Training dates are as follows: Oct. 21, 22, 28 and 29; and Nov. 4.  Sessions will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sandusky Artisans Community Recovery Center, 138 E. Market Street.

Those not eligible for the training who’d still like to help with outreach and community building should contact the board at  440-282-9920 to find out about groups, committees and outreach teams in-need of volunteers. Those interested in outreach work can also connect with ASSISTcommunities by contacting

To obtain an application or for further questions, call 440-282-9920.


FYI: The Cleveland Clinic will be hosting a panel discussion: Heroin, Fentanyl and Carfentanil: The Triple Threat on Our Doorstep. The program will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Lorain County Community College Spitzer Conference Center, 1005 N. Abbe Rd.





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