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Statewide anti-drug effort comes to Akron

2/27/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor took part in the regional kickoff of the Start Talking! initiative at Buchtel High School Feb. 25. The program aims to get adults to talk with youths regarding drug use.
Photo: Kathleen Folkerth
WEST AKRON — Drug abuse doesn’t just kill users. It tears families apart and takes up a great deal of law enforcement’s time and effort.

That was the message imparted at Buchtel High School Feb. 25 at the regional kickoff of Start Talking!, Ohio’s youth drug abuse prevention initiative. To an audience of students, law enforcement, public health officials and others, guests spoke on the importance of the new effort that encourages adults and youths to get a conversation going about the dangers of drug use.

“Our goal is to help you understand how you can help others,” said Dale Batdorff, one of two fathers who shared the story of his son’s death due to a drug overdose.

Gov. John Kasich and his wife, Karen, launched Start Talking! at the first of the year. In regional appearances, members of the governor’s cabinet have introduced the components of the program that they hope will make a difference in the state, noting that students are less likely to use drugs if their parents talk to them about it.

According to state officials, drug overdoses were the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio in 2011. At that point, one Ohioan was dying of a drug overdose every five hours, according to state statistics.

During his remarks, Akron Police Chief James Nice said he conducts a staff meeting every morning to find out what kinds of incidents took place in the city in the previous 24 hours. He noted that in that morning’s meeting, he learned Akron Police officers responded to a fatal drug overdose the evening before. He added that he’d also been told about police responding to an overdose in the previous morning’s meeting.

“This morning, some parents joined this terrible club,” Nice said. “Heroin is on the rise, and it needs us to step up and do something about it. This is so preventable.”

He also expressed frustration that those who sell heroin in small amounts are not subject to jail time, and asked those in attendance to contact their legislators to change Ohio laws.

Nice and others also stressed the problem is not one only facing cities.

“We live in Jackson Township, and this evil thing reached into my home and grabbed my son,” said Batdorff, whose son was 21 when he died in 2011. 

Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, of Green, also spoke and called the current problem in the state with opiate addiction an epidemic.

“Not only is it addictive, it’s very hard to overcome,” she said. “The best way to avoid the struggle is to just say ‘no.’ Don’t do it to begin with.”

Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, outlined how the four-part Start Talking! initiative is providing a framework for Ohioans to address the problem.

The first two components are geared toward youths and building self-confidence and resiliency. Building Youth Resiliency will provide $1 million in grants to communities using evidence-based programs to help youths resist substance abuse. The grant application period ended Feb. 14, and awards will be announced around April 1, Plouck said.

The other program is 5 Minutes for Life. Through this, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio National Guard aim to reach high school athletes to encourage them to become ambassadors to lead peer-to-peer conversations to promote healthy lifestyles.

Two other programs aim to help parents and other adults connect with the youths in their lives to get a conversation started.

Through twice-monthly email messages, Know! provides tips to adult caregivers of teens, while TEACHable Moments gives direction to other important adults such as teachers. Those who are interested can sign up for the messages on the website www.starttalking.ohio.gov.

The other program is Parents360 Rx, a national program that features action toolkits for parents to help them be more informed so they can have better conversations with their children about drug use.

“This is just another set of tools that is free and voluntary,” Plouck said.

Information on all of the programs is available at the website.

Those who spoke also noted that illegal drugs are not the only problem. Prescription drugs also need to be handled with care, and parents must make sure they are keeping them inaccessible to young people.

Summit County Sheriff’s Office officials said in the Akron area, there are 14 drug disposal sites that can be used to safely dispose of unneeded prescription drugs. In a 32-month period, county officials said they collected more than 13,000 pounds of prescription drugs from the public to be destroyed. In the West Side Leader’s coverage area, drop off sites are at the police departments in Akron, Bath, Copley, Fairlawn and Richfield.

Both Batdorff and Angelo Martino Sr., of Boardman, whose son died 18 months ago, said their sons first used prescription drugs like Oxycontin before moving on to street drugs like heroin, which ultimately caused their deaths.

Batdorff said his son’s death has led to family turmoil and the realization that things are forever different for him, his wife and three other children.

“This bad decision that Dustin made — it affects everybody,” he said. “My family will never, ever be the same. It’s affected each and every one of us.”

Also attending the event were Richard Ross, Ohio’s superintendent of Public Instruction; Akron Public Schools Board of Education President Lisa Mansfield; and Deryck Toles, a former NFL player and founder of Inspiring Minds in Warren. Audience members included Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Ohio Board of Education member Sarah Fowler (District 7).

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