A candlelight vigil, held Friday at Lakeview Park in Lorain, memorialized the 132 lives lost to drug overdoses last year in Lorain County.
The event was held on International Overdose Awareness Day, which aims to raise awareness of drug abuse, addressing the stigma of addiction, and helping those grieving the loss of loved ones.
“We’ve tried to wrap our heads around the sheer magnitude of this epidemic,” said Elaine Georgas, director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County.
“Overdoses killed about 72,000 people last year nationally. Stop imagining a person suffering in the late stages of a disease and start picturing your own child or neighbor. Every one of these lives is someone’s daughter, son, father, or mother.”
Georgas spoke of the importance of expanding access to naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote served often sold under the brand name Narcan, and strengthening local recovery options.
The former Golden Acres Nursing Home on Rt. 58 in Amherst Township has been tabbed as the future home of Recovery One, a recovery clinic for opioid addiction. Officials have estimated that refurbishing the building would cost roughly $850,000.
A 0.30-mill levy to raise funds for Recovery One has been placed on the November ballot. Lorain County commissioners say that, if backed by voters, it will raise $2 million and cost homeowners $10.50 per $100,000 of property valuation annually.
Speakers at the candlelight vigil included Mark and Patricia Hart of North Ridgeville. The couple lost their son, Mark II, in 2014 to a heroin overdose.
They said his addiction started with a pain-killer prescription following a football injury.
“My son was sick,” Patricia said. “It wasn’t a reflection of how he was raised. The pain of losing a child will never go away but you can achieve peace and get your life back. But don’t go it alone. There’s so many resources available. We want to honor the mothers and fathers who’ve had to bury their children because they’re survivors too. I trust in God and I know I’ll get to see my son again someday.”
Those in attendance were asked whether they or someone they know is recovering from addiction. An overwhelming majority of hands went up.
One of those belonged to Michelle Nichols. She said drug addiction heavily contributed to her decision to rob Lorain’s First Federal Savings and Loan on July 15, 2017.
She pleaded guilty to the charges in March and was sentenced to three years of probation.
“I lived that way for 35 years and it started to feel like drugs were a survival tool,” Nichols said. “If I had money and drugs, that meant I was in control — or that’s how I felt. Drugs tore my family apart and my kids were taken away from me. Now I’m 13 months sober. The day I was arrested, my knees hit the cold county jail floor, but in that moment God came to me. I had to give up and go to him with a childlike dependence.”
“Relapse doesn’t have to be part of your story,” she said. “Make amends with people you’ve hurt. We lost 132 people in Lorain County last year. But this year, the last time I checked it’s only 47 and it’s already September. We’re doing something right around here.”
Georgas said fighting the stigma associated with addiction will remain a prominent local focus.
“All of us need to understand that addiction doesn’t show a preference toward race, economic condition, or gender,” she said. “We’re all in this together as a community to help those who’re struggling. It means a healthier community for all of us.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.