That is the message Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael Astrab brought to Bay Village two weeks ago at his “Heroin in the Suburbs’ Forum held at Bay Village Library.
“Make no mistake, it’s an epidemic,” Astrab said. “I can do what I can as a judge from the bench, but by the time a user gets to my courtroom, it’s often too late. As a community, we need to do more to prevent people from using heroin in the first place.”
The goal of Judge Astrab’s forum was to raise awareness of the heroin epidemic, and inform parents how to keep their families safe.
“This is an epidemic. For anyone to suggest otherwise is naive,” said Astrab.
“Bay Village is not immune. It is here,” added Chief of Police Mark Spaetzel.
Prescription painkillers are often the gateway drug to heroin. When painkillers become hard to find, users look to the streets and find heroin suppliers. Surprisingly, deadly doses of heroin can be scored for as little as lunch money – $20!
Once a user even tries heroin, it is too late for some. The addiction is immediately bigger than they they are.
Astrab shared some startling perceptions. “Any of you here who are in real estate or have a home for sale, hide your prescription medicines. There are people out there who go to real estate open houses only to look for meds.”
Some kids, he said, host “pharm parties,” where admission is a pill from a home medicine cabinet. Guests then take an unlabeled pill – it could be an antibiotic, a blood pressure med or an opiate – as part of the party plan.
Prevention is the best defense. “Finding out your kid is on drugs is the worst thing that can happen until the day comes when the worst thing that can happen does happen. And that is the day your child doesn’t comes home.” said Robert Brandt of Robbie’s Voice – a drug prevention organization dedicated to his late son. The night Robbie died, he placed three phone calls looking for help to stay sober, including one to his AA sponsor. He got an answering machine each time before he OD’d.
“After Robby died, my wife and I sat down and just said, ‘What could we have done differently?” That question prompted the start of, www.Robby’sVoice.com. “Simply put, the key to winning the war against addiction lies within the efforts of the community. Law enforcement cannot arrest their way to victory, we must take our communities back through education, awareness and prevention,” said Brandt.
Heroin killed approximately 200 people in Cuyahoga County in 2013. The majority of those deaths were in the suburbs. Heroin took more lives in 2013 than homicides or car accidents.
Other expert panelists include defense attorney Jim Jenkins, Dr. Joan Papp from Project DAWN, Cuyahoga County Opiate Task Force chair Vince Caraffi, and Dr. Stephen Sroka.
Dr. Papp spoke on the emergence of a heroin antidote – Naloxone. Also known as Narcan, it is a medication that can reverse an overdose that is caused by an opioid drug. When administered during an overdose, naloxone blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing within two to eight minutes. (Heroin deaths typically result because the victim stops breathing), Naloxone has been used safely by emergency medical professionals for more than 40 years and has only one function: to reverse the effects of opioids on the brain and respiratory system in order to prevent death. “Everyone involved in these forums has one goal – prevent at least one person from being hurt by heroin,” Astrab said. “If we can do that, this effort will absolutely be worth it.”
“This room is full, but it is a small room,” said host Kathy Winzig. “There is so much more that needs to be done.”
Dr. Sroka said everyone has the power to make a difference. “Denial is huge. You can’t say, ‘It’s not in my community’ anymore. You should be prepared. There’s not a person here this can’t happen to.”
“There probably isn’t a family you don’t know that hasn’t been touched by this,” said Chief Spaetzel.
The biggest message: PREVENTION. Addiction is bigger than most people.
Visit this FB page for a reality check: https://www.facebook.com/heroinkillsyou