- 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos
In 2015, Ohio ranked fourth among the five states identified as having the highest rates of death in the nation from drug overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC also reported that overdoses involving opioid drugs have quadrupled since 1999.
This past December, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency said the illegal use of carfentanil, a synthetic opioid used to sedate large animals, had become "cause for concern." The drug is about 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. One microgram is enough to kill an adult.
What can parents do to keep their kids safe from the growing opiate epidemic? How can you tell if a loved one is using drugs? Who can help?
Answers to these questions were the focus of an "Opiate/Heroin Information and Education Event" held at Malvern School.
Sponsored by the Coalition for a Drug Free Carroll County, the free event included a discussion featuring seven panelists representing law enforcement, health care and counseling, youth efforts, and those who have experienced a loved one's addiction.
Start talking, keep talking
All of the panelists agreed that talking to kids about the dangers of drugs is the essential strategy to keep them safe.
According to Frank Copeland, who co-chairs the Coalition, recent data indicate that kids are 50 percent less likely to use drugs when their parents speak to them often about the dangers involved.
Copeland said parents should also be keeping an eye on their kids' behavior and make sure that they aren't abusing alcohol, inhalants, or marijuana, substances that are more likely to lead a child to prescription painkillers, heroin and other hard drugs.
Establishing clear family rules about expectations for kids, including asking plenty of questions when kids plan to be away from home or are on their way out with friends, is an important part of keeping an eye on them.
"I think that taking a front-end approach to the whole problem is getting involved in prevention," said Copeland.
Carrollton sophomore Nate Allen, who volunteers with a variety of school-based anti-drug groups, said parents who have used drugs in the past should be open with their kids about their experiences.
"They can tell kids their story about how they got into drugs and why they don't want their kids to get into drugs," he noted.
Allen added that, regardless of whether a parent is a past addict or has never touched drugs, they should never stop talking about the dangers.
"If you think they're not listening...just remember that they still are listening to you. Keep talking about it. Bring up stuff that you've seen in the news so you really emphasize the negative side affects of all this stuff," he stated.
Sarah Smith, a representative with Ohio's "Start Talking!" drug awareness program, said kids entering middle school are ready for tough conversations about the dangers of drugs, but even elementary students should know what medication is and that it is not safe for them to touch.
One tip about when to speak with kids came from Brown Local Schools Superintendent Connie Griffin, who pointed out that car rides present opportunities for conversation.
How do I know when a loved one is using?
Discussion also included tips to help family members and friends figure out if their loved one is using. Look at the loved one's pupils and muscle tension to see if they are high on drugs, and keep track of behaviors like stealing, lying, and attempts to manipulate others, said Keelan Moore, a former heroin addict who now works in a drug recovery program.
Holly's Song of Hope founder Tonda DaRe, who lost her daughter to a heroin overdose, said symptoms of drug abuse in kids can include a sudden change of friends, change of appetite, and a fear of spending time with family. Some kids are fearful of leaving town, such as for vacations, because they do not want to be away from their dealers, she noted.
Parents were also cautioned to look around their homes for drug paraphernalia, including oil wrappers, which are used to package drugs, and sandwich bags with corners that have been torn off. Missing spoons can also indicate that a person in the house is using heroin.
Moore said people can make sure they don't enable drug abuse by refusing to give their kids or other loved ones easy cash or access to a vehicle.
"In recovery, we say that if the addict likes you, then you're probably...enabling the addict. If the addict hates you, you're probably doing something really good for the addict," she said.
Locking up prescription medications and regularly checking the number of medications in the home can help prevent kids from getting into prescription painkillers, said Smith, adding that 82 percent of Ohioans who use heroin got started by abusing prescription medications.
What if I find drugs in my home?
Carroll County Sheriff's Sergeant Kyle Trisnar cautioned that if mystery drugs are found in the home, people should avoid touching them and should call the sheriff's department or police department, which can safely dispose of the substances.
Trisnar and DaRe warned in particular that tablets or powders containing carfentanil can kill on contact.
"One microgram of carfentenil is enough to put an adult male down. It can be absorbed through the skin, and it can be accidentally inhaled if it's moved around," said DaRe.
Drugs in bottles can be disposed of at drug drop-off boxes, located at the Carroll County Sheriff's Department and at the Minerva Police Department, or at drug drop-off events.
Addicted mothers, addicted babies
A portion of the discussion was devoted to how drug abuse in mothers affects their unborn babies.
Registered nurse Jenny Misch said her 11 years in Aultman Hospital's labor and delivery unit and in the neonatal intensive care unit have revealed an astonishing increase in the number of babies who are born addicted to heroin and other drugs.
"Just in the 11 years that I've been doing this, it has increase gigantically. In the NICU, we can have five or six babies born addicted at once," Misch commented.
Many addicted babies suffer from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a condition that causes drug withdrawl symptoms including irritability, seizure-like tremors, tensed muscles, high-pitched excessive crying, vomiting, a feverish body temperature, and skin break-down.
"These babies are so agitated and so uncomfortable because they need to suck. They need that fix. So they tear up their face and get the skin break-down. Their feet, because they rub their feet constantly, their butts from excessive diarrhea," said Misch.
The only medical treatment available for NAS is a schedule of morphine that is gradually reduced as symptoms decrease. Misch said Aultman has also implemented the Cuddler Program, which draws on specialized volunteers who hold the babies to comfort them.
"These babies need a lot of human contact to keep them calm. They like to be held tightly," said Misch.
Misch noted a CDC report showing that NAS has increased by more than 300 percent in recent years. In Ohio, the CDC saw a 750-percent jump in babies born with NAS over a 10-year period.
CDC reports also show that 80 percent of hospital charges for the treatment of NAS babies are covered by taxpayers through the state Medicaid system.
How to find help
Carroll County residents who are seeking drug recovery help for themselves or a loved one can call the county's Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services board at 330-627-7192 during the week or Community Mental Health at 330-627-4313 on weekends or after business hours.
Holly's Song of Hope, a support group for people who have been affected by their own or a loved one's drug addiction, keeps a Facebook page with information about local meetings and other events.
People who are grieving the death of a loved one from overdose can also contact Ohio's G.A.P. Network, also called "Moving from Grief to Action for Prevention." More information is available at www.drugfreeactionalliance.org.