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Macedonia -- Nearly 100 area residents filed into Faith Fellowship Church July 21 to learn about the heroin epidemic and how to find help.
Speakers included Summit County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Teodosio, Rosalie Canfield, Operations Director of Hope Over Heroin, Anna Copeland and Rosa Hensley, both alcohol and drug counselors from Summit County Public Health's Community Health Center, and Faith Fellowship Pastor, The Rev. Mike Gorrell, who opened and closed the meeting in prayer.
The program was put together by Northfield Village resident Jody Ulrick. Ulrick said she has seen young people die and wants to do all she can to keep her kids alive.
Teodosio discussed the Turning Point Program, which is the felony drug court that handles drug abuse cases with supervision, treatment and testing as well as incentives, which he said play an important role in recovery from addiction.
"It's important we reward good behavior," Teodosio said. "If (Participants) are staying clean, going to their meetings, or doing positive things, we'll mention that in court, give some praise from the bench, give them a round of applause. How silly does that sound? But it works; it is reinforcing positive behavior."
Teodosio also said he believes there is a stigma attached to heroin addicts that keeps them from getting help.
"If Zika was killing the same number of people in our communities, people would be outraged," he said.
A Cuyahoga Falls woman, Gina DiPaulo, who lost her son to addiction a year ago, said she agrees with Teodosio, that there is a stigma attached. She said her son was two different people because of the drugs, but he wasn't a bad person.
"There was my son, who I loved and then there was the Aaron who I didn't like so much," DiPaulo said. "But there is a stigma with drug addiction; it's judgemental -- it's not a worthy death. It's almost like you don't have the same rights if you are struggling with addiction."
Like Ulrick, DiPaulo said addiction destroys the whole family and she doesn't want to see anymore young people lose their lives.
"We are losing a generation, from 16 to 23 year olds," DiPaulo said. "Nobody thinks 'It's going to be me.'"
Macedonia Police Chief Jon Golden said his department has responded to as many as six opioid overdoses in one week, including two from one Highland Road motel room. He said the general public needs to be more proactive in combating the opioid epidemic.
"The public can't expect the police to solve the problem," Golden said. "We see a lot of denial by family members and the longer the problem goes on, the harder it is to fight the addiction.
"Families are the first line of defense. We have very few burglaries in our area and if things come up missing several times in a house, don't dismiss it," he said.
"Turning a blind eye doesn't make the problem go away," he added.
Golden said some steps people can take include avoiding prescription pain killers and disposing of unused medications in the drop box located at Macedonia Family Recreation Center.
DiPaulo also told the News Leader she blames doctors and pharmaceutical companies for making prescription drugs so easily available.
Canfield said HOH was formed in Cincinnati when one funeral home received 14 overdose clients in one week.
She said the non-profit organization started with one event but had an overwhelming call to "take the church to the streets." She said many addicts won't enter a church so the group mobilized in what she says amounts to street evangelism targeting areas that were most impacted the heroin epidemic.
One thing families can do is contact the Summit County Public Health Department for a Nalaxone kit.
Nalaxone, otherwise known as Narcan, is a medication designed to block the effects of opioids on the brain and can help restore breathing within two to eight minutes. The kits are free and no questions are asked, according to drug counselors at the health department.
They said calling 911 before using the kit is important to get help en route because one kit may not be enough to revive someone from an overdose.
Anyone interested in obtaining a kit can pick one up on Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. at 1867 West Market Street in Akron.
Ulrick said she is working on another community meeting for late September or in October for the community to discuss what can be done to combat the heroin epidemic.
In the meantime, she said Faith Fellowship Church is holding community prayer service/informal gathering on Thursday nights from 7 to 8 p.m. to pray for families touched by drug abuse.
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432