CEDARVILLE — The effects of the Ohio heroin epidemic can be felt even in small communities like Cedarville — that is why community leaders along with Ohio’s Attorney General want to place an emphasis on education and awareness.
Organized by Cedarville Township Fire Chief Scott Baldwin and Cedarville Police Chief Chris Gillaugh, a community meeting was held Tuesday at the high school, which attracted residents to hear from the chiefs, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and others about opiate addiction.
Education being key, DeWine said it won’t work to talk to students once, but repeated discussion of this topic is necessary.
“We have to figure out some way to reach kids year after year after year after year,” He said. “I don’t mean to imply this is just a problem for the kids. But I always look to the future and think what can we do to prevent this from occurring in the future.”
Even people who were doing drugs, there was some kind of psychological barrier to stop them from moving on to heroin, DeWine said, and that’s gone. People now look at heroin as any other drug, he said.
According to DeWine, people don’t typically just start taking heroin, but 75 percent of heroin users started out taking pain pills. He also said heroin users are more likely to be found in suburbs and rural areas than cities, and heroin affects all kinds of people across Ohio.
Baldwin shared his experiences responding to heroin overdoses, specifically the four that have happened in Cedarville. In all four of those cases, Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdoes, was used and they lived. And Baldwin added that people are brought back every single day dozens and dozens of times across the state because of Narcan.
The chief also shared information about other drugs that have been found in Cedarville, as well as a way kids are consuming alcohol. In addition to the facts about the drugs and drug use in the community, he talked about warning signs to watch for, both at home and at school. These signs can indicate someone is using drugs.
The forum also addressed how these addictions can be stopped. Baldwin said you need to start by asking the question, asking “what’s up.” He asked if the community has what it takes to challenge someone who they suspect is using.
During the forum community members also talked about their experiences with heroin.
Sandy Acton, who owns Colonial Pizza with her family, said she’s seen how Cedarville has grown and changed over the years leading to break-ins at Colonial, and how she learned about drug use after the most recent break-in.
“It’s so hard to see it because you don’t want to see it, you don’t realize that it’s happening,” Acton said. “I didn’t realize it was happening, and it was right in front of me, nearly every day.”
Acton emphasized she doesn’t think the drug situation is a fad and it won’t go away by itself.
“Even though we live in Cedarville, Ohio, it’s right out there, it’s right on Main Street,” Acton said. “I pray for our little town because I believe we’re in a crisis.”
Jenny Laird emphasized the need to start talking. Laird was in a car accident with her two kids, and she was prescribed pain pills after the accident. She started to take more of the medication, and continued manipulating the situation, even after her husband was working to make sure she was only taking them as prescribed. But it took her father talking to her for her to start the change. Laird said shame feeds the habit of addiction because it’s a cycle – you’re ashamed you do it, so you do it more because you’re ashamed.
“It’s time to take the shame out of it,” Laird said. “It’s time to talk about it. It’s happening in Cedarville. It’s happening in your schools. It’s happening in your homes. You see people sick with cancer and you want to do everything to help them. People are sick with addiction. Say something. That’s all it took – my dad to say something.”
Community members who came to the forum said it was informative and a good start.
“It’s a reality check,” said Danielle Burns. “We need that. I’m not from here, so I’m aware already because I’m from Virginia Beach and there’s drugs there. But just to kinda open your eyes and realize this is not Mayberry, there is drugs.”
And Beki Ryan said she’s hopeful this is the first of many such community events.
“I think that when you have one police officer on duty that’s watching the town, that’s one set of eyes,” she said. “But when the entire community pulls together like this, and as you saw from the turn-out tonight, people are concerned about this, so now we have all of these eyes watching what’s happening. I think that it can be better to have more eyes on the street, more people informed about how this stuff starts and more preventative measures taking place so we don’t have to worry about this into the future.”
Chief Baldwin said if anyone sees anything suspicious, they can anonymously call 937-766-5205, which is a recorded line, to report it.
And Gillaugh said the police department can’t do this alone and they can’t arrest their way out of the problem – they need help from the community. His plan is to get interested people from the community together as a task force.
“If we have someone, then we can let them know that you’re available to mentor them, to talk to them, to take them to their doctor, their hospital visits, their psychologist,” Gillaugh said in his plan for the task force. “If they get into a situation where they just feel like they’ve got to get back into drugs, got to feel good again, they can call you and you can talk to them and try to talk them out of it.”
Anyone who is interested in participating in the task force should talk to Gillaugh.
Lauren Eissler is a freelance writer for Greene County News.