By Cindy Andrews
In 2015, nearly 21 million Americans suffered from a substance use disorder. That is more than the number of people who have all cancers, combined. Right here in Lorain County we face a significant health, economic, and social threat because of this disease. Last year, over 130 people died from opioid abuse or misuse. And there was a $200M dollar economic burden.
This critical health care crisis is still dealt with mostly outside of the traditional doctor’s visit and billable insurance forms. The stigma of addiction threatens the most vulnerable members of our community. The disease is so pervasive it affects family members, businesses, and the economy. And most tragically, our children.
Addiction is a complex disease that, if untreated, can be fatal. A person battling the disease of addiction is treated very differently than someone with a chronic and potentially fatal disease. When complications of a chronic disease develop it is viewed as a progression of the illness and not a moral failure. For a person in remission who discovers that their disease has returned it is not a sign of failure, it is a relapse needing a new or alternative treatment.
Our schools are starting drug awareness education as early as kindergarten. Because the disease does not discriminate against whether or not its victims are parents, children who are displaced are increasingly living with a family member or are placed into foster care if no relatives can care for them.
According to a 2017 report from Public Children Services Association of Ohio, more than 15,500 children are in the custody of Ohio's children service agencies, a 23% increase over 2016. In Lorain County 35% of children were removed from their homes because of parental drug use.
What if we changed our mindset? What if we led with compassion first? Imagine seeing a person struggling with addiction as one who is battling a chronic disease with a substantial risk for fatality. Consider how that change in approach would fundamentally shift how they are treated, helped, and supported.
We need a multi-systemic approach to treating substance use disorders that transforms a disjointed social service system into a coordinated one. The Philanthropic and Community Coalition is a group of public, private, and community entities working to end the opioid epidemic in Lorain County. The Coalition is working to establish Recovery One, a coordinated system including intake, triage, and services for individuals suffering with addiction. Several community partners have come together to help shape the vision for Recovery One. We have created a special Fund at the Community Foundation to support the work of the Coalition. You can learn more and donate by visiting its website at https://endtheepidemiclc.org/
We are also working to ensure that the children affected have an advocate for their best interests and a safe, permanent, and loving home. Voices for Children of Lorain County recruits, trains, and supports volunteers to serve as Guardians Ad Litem (GALs) for children who are survivors of abuse and neglect. This month we announced over $860,000 in grants serving the needs of our community. A $9,000 grant to Voices for Children will ensure that they have GALs needed to address the children being displaced from their homes due to the opioid crisis.
If ever we needed a community of care supporting those in our community battling a debilitating disease of addiction, that time is now. Fortunately, we live in such a community. I urge us all to consider how we see those individuals fighting this disease. If we know someone grieving the loss of a loved one, be present for them. Support a friend who is struggling with a relapse, lead with compassion, they too are battling for their lives.