Yearlong project examines the opioid crisis in our communities

Susan Condon Love

People in our communities are dying at an ever-increasing rate from opioid overdoses and we, as a society, may be growing numb to it. It's kind of hard not to shut down after seeing harsh images of parents passed out in a car and a toddler crying in the back seat, or hearing about a toddler dying after ingesting his grandmother's methadone, a drug she's using to wean herself off other drugs.

In Ohio, there have been 56 drug-related deaths in the first 23 days of 2018. In our communities, 2017 was deadly: 16 people died in Lakewood; seven in North Olmsted; and three in Westlake, according to the Cuyahoga County medical examiner’s office. In eastern Lorain County, the number of deaths are just as stark: four in Avon; four in Avon Lake; seven in North Ridgeville; three in Sheffield Lake; and one in Sheffield Village, according to the coroner’s office.

These numbers, and the fact that everyone seems increasingly to know someone affected by the opioid crisis – either personally or through family and friends – has spurred us at PJPnewspapers (West Life, The Press and The North Ridgeville Press) to look at this crisis that’s erupting in our backyard. (or all around us)

Our neighbors are dying. Who are they? How did they get to that point? How are their families coping? How are community services attempting to fill needs, both with emotional support and medical assistance?

Starting today, and running each month through December, our staffs will examine such topics as how we got to this point, what drugs are involved and the psychological backstory for addiction. Our inaugural stories this week have been reported and written by staffers Nicole Hennessy, Kevin Kelley, Jeff Gallatin and Maureen Bole – all bringing their own talents and insights to the project. Hennessy and Bole wrote the overview, and Kelley explains pain management. Gallatin is compiling the monthly death lists from his county and police sources.

Bole brings even more to the project – her talents as a graphic reporter as well as the perspective of a recovering addict. She will be writing a personal column each month, helping us realize the crisis from a completely different perspective.

The common thread through all the stories will be the people in our communities. The names and faces behind the deaths. They are more than just numbers. They are our neighbors. Our sisters. Our brothers. Our parents. Our cousins. Our friends.

This is not going to be easy to read, but our ultimately goal is to bring the communities of the West Side together in our pursuit to understand, cope and gain empathy for those on the front line of the opioid crisis. We aren't going to cure it. But maybe we can expose it and find the best ways to gain the upperhand on at least slowing its ugly march forward.

Do you have personal stories you'd like to share? Maybe a success story? Maybe a tragedy you hope will help others? Please let us know by either calling us at 440-871-5797, or email at editor@westlifenews.com or editor@2presspapers.com.

We are bigger than this crisis. Together, we stop becoming immune to the numbers and reach out to help.

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