Experts say more needs to be done to address Valley’s drug epidemic

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman sat down in Youngstown with those on the front lines of the drug epidemic

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman sat down Friday morning with those on the front lines of the drug epidemic, touring the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown.


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio Sen. Rob Portman sat down Friday morning with those on the front lines of the drug epidemic, touring the Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic in Youngstown.

Neil Kennedy’s medical director, who’s in recovery himself, said he’s concerned about programs offering only treatment but not counseling services.

“Patients will come in all the time. They’ve been on suboxone for three years, seven years, 10 years, without a whole recovery-based program, and they’re not OK,” Dr. Joseph Sitarik said.

In Trumbull County — where overdose deaths are on track to surpass last year’s record-breaking numbers — experts say they’re having to help more than just those who are addicted.

“Certainly the presence of substance abuse in the home often leads to domestic violence, and there’s mental illness, all of the above are traumatic for children in the home,” said Tim Schaffner, executive director of Trumbull County Children Services.

UNINTENTIONAL DRUG DEATH RATES BY COUNTY

2015 OHIO DRUG OVERDOSE DATA

Portman used Friday’s visit to ask which laws are working and which are not. One mentioned was Ohio’s Good Samaritan Act, which gives those found overdosing a chance to seek treatment rather than being arrested on the spot. Directors argue that there’s no way to keep track.

“If they overdose in Warren and then the next day overdose in Niles or even in the same day, I mean, we have people in our county that are overdosing multiple times in the same day,” said Lauren Thorp, director of Recovery and Youth Programs at the Trumbull County Mental Health Board.

Thorp told Portman the law, which went into effect in September, doesn’t provide any money.

“Someone has to put in the funds. One, to create that database system and then also to support law enforcement to have the staff to enter information into the database system,” she said.

Portman said his legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), offers grants for local programs. But, he said, nothing will happen overnight.

“It takes awhile to get those programs up and going. I understand that we just passed the legislation last year, late last year, so I hope the Trump Administration continues to implement these programs,” he said.

Portman is also pushing new legislation that makes it harder for fentanyl traffickers to ship the drug into the country — often using the U.S. Postal Service to do it.

“Mostly, it’s made in China, in laboratories in China and sent here, and it’s killing people I represent,” he said. “So our legislation says, let’s require the Post Office help law enforcement by providing information so they can target these suspicious packages and try to stop some of this stuff.”

Portman said while Ohio has some of the highest numbers opioid deaths in the country, figures show the Mahoning Valley has 20 percent more overdoses than the rest of the state.

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