PROJECT OPIOID: Coalition ready to combat overdoses

By Jonathan Delozier -

Right around $200 million.

That’s how much the opioid epidemic cost Lorain County in 2016 alone, according to a study released last week.

Conducted by Altarum, a Michigan-based research firm, and sponsored by the Nord Family Foundation, it looked at estimates for lost earnings and productivity, health care, criminal justice, child and family assistance, and treatment and prevention.

As a result, the Nord foundation, Community Foundation of Lorain County, and Black River Education and Wellness Foundation have formed a partnership to combat the social and economic harm caused by the deadly drugs.

It’s called the Philanthropic and Community Coalition to End the Opioid Epidemic.

“We were well aware of the catastrophic impact of the opioid crisis nationally, in Ohio, and locally in Lorain County,” said John Mullaney, executive director of the Nord Family Foundation. “As a learning institution, we needed to gather and understand local data to help drive our decision-making and future investment in specific action areas to address the crisis.”

In addition to 132 overdose deaths in 2016, Lorain County registered 2,691 opioid-related emergency room visits and 6,398 cases of opioid use disorders, according to the study.

The study also calculated 35,186 instances of prescription opioid abuse and misuse that year.

Goals of the new coalition include the reduction of deaths and overdoses, establishing a coordinated education and prevention system, and finding ways to chip away at annual economic burdens on the county.

Six teams made up of medical and addiction experts plan on working with local governments and businesses to forward those initiatives, said former University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center chief medical officer Don Sheldon, head of the new coalition.

“More people are dying from this epidemic in one year than we lost in the Vietnam War,” he said. “It’s time for us to jump in. We’re losing this race right now. We need to be reaching even into the elementary schools. Research is finding kids are experimenting with alcohol as early as fourth, fifth, sixth grade. We also need to get the point across to the public that addiction is not a moral failing, it’s a disease. It will get out of control sometimes. You’ll have repeat episodes of falling back into the trap.”

According to the the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 64,000 people, including 4,050 Ohioans, fatally overdosed in 2016 — well above the 58,220 U.S. military deaths over the entirety of Vietnam.

In December, Lorain County joined a number of communities in suing pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, alleging they engaged in racketeering and a pattern of deceptive behavior regarding how addictive their medications were.

“Hospitals were told they need to do a better job addressing pain,” Sheldon said. “It went as far as the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals and says you can keep your doors open, telling hospitals to treat pain as a fifth vital sign. They were forcing doctors to overuse medication. Now the truth has come out. This baloney about Oxycontin not being addictive was nonsense from the beginning.”

“Let’s just say it was a thoughtful marketing campaign,” he said. “It was intentionally deceptive. The county is suing for these intentionally misleading practices and the resulting burdens. To a large extent, these companies caused this problem.”

Sheldon added that a growing sense of economic desperation and a lax atmosphere in the country regarding mental health treatment have also played a part in widespread opioid abuse.

“About 60 to 70 percent of people who abuse drugs also have a mental health problem, a huge overlap,” he said. “Not only does that drive you into being resource poor, but also once you’re into it, it can make your family resource poor. If Medicaid expansion goes away, places like The LCADA Way will probably lose 70 to 80 percent of their funding. In that case, services will be reduced.”

“That funding would go away overnight, but this problem definitely wouldn’t.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier