Rittman Community Forum discusses drug use

The robust crowd gathered at the Rittman Community Forum were quick to engage law enforcement personnel about local opiate drug activity, asking what residents can do to help stop the apparent upward trend in usage.

The forum, held at Rittman's Heritage Hall Monday, was attended by about 60 residents of varied backgrounds. Whether the comments and questions were put forth by council members, residents, clergy or members of community coalitions, the audience members said they understand addiction is complex and those suffering from it face many barriers.

"These drugs are pretty powerful," Rittman Grace Brethren pastor Bud Olszewski said. The odds of recovery are quite slim, he said, and "that is pretty horrible to think."

Bryon Bell said the barriers to overcoming addiction are multifaceted. He said, in his view, one of the biggest challenges begins with crime that pops up around drug use.

With addiction comes petty theft, he said, and that leads people to fear. Neighbors start telling each other they need to lock their doors at night because of a drug problem, and Bell said that leads to the labeling of addicts as "those people."

"The problem with that is it creates a stigma," he said.

Eileen Keller, coalition coordinator for STEPS at Liberty Center, said people do resist treatment because they fear the label of 'addict.' Reminding forum participants of the prevalence of addiction, be it opioid addiction, alcoholism or something else, she said it is something just about everybody has at least some connection to.

"It crosses the whole spectrum," Rittman Police Chief Mike Burg added.

Bell said barriers are not limited to the stigma of being labeled an addict. Addicts also face barriers in treatment.

The treatment barrier, Burg said, comes back to incentives. The power of the drug is a strong incentive to continue to use, he said, and treatment often fails in vying for an addict's attention.

"Treatment has to be a stronger draw than the drug" he said, adding he believes treatment is "not there right now."

The barriers are relatively clear, Bell said, but solutions are muddled. He asked the group "what can we do to reduce these barriers."

Keller said simply understanding addiction is everywhere can go a long way in reducing the barriers faced by addicts. Acknowledging addiction is a problem everywhere, she said, can help addicts feel less alienated.

Nonya Stalnaker, prevention specialist at STEPS at Liberty Center Connections, said programs similar to Alcoholics Anonymous can help to reduce barriers.

"Twelve-step fellowships are a really great way to help," she said, adding in addition to being an effective method of treatment, they can remind everyone involved not everyone is satisfied with staying addicted to drugs.

Medway Drug Enforcement Agency Don Hall said helping to curb the increasing trend of drug activity begins with helping law enforcement agencies do their jobs.

Hall advised the group to pass information about drug activity in the community to his agency by sending a message to its email, medwaydea@earthlink.net. Simple actions like that, he said, can help the agency to reduce the flow of drugs into the community, stopping the issue before people get trapped in addiction.

Stalnaker said that kind of information can be gathered during community cleanup days or other events where people are outside at public spaces. If someone comes across drug paraphernalia, she said, call it into a law enforcement agency.

Bell said, in his view, simply cleaning up a city park is something that has to be beneficial for reducing drug activity. With a cleaner park, he said, more people will use the space and it is possible that may make the area less attractive for drug activity.

"It's those little things that do, tangentially, have an effect," he said.

By THOMAS DOOHAN @the-daily-record.com

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