Two years ago, I ran for judge, and one of the main reasons was because I wanted to curb Lakewood’s opioid overdoses and deaths. At the time, the City of Lakewood was No. 1 in heroin overdoses in Cuyahoga County. Two years later, we sadly still hold that top spot. We can not sit idly by anymore. It’s time to end the opioid epidemic in Lakewood, Ohio!
It was recently announced that the city plans to launch Project SOAR (Supporting Opiate Addiction Recovery) this fall. It’s a good start, and I commend the city for finally acknowledging this epidemic and asking for help, but imagine how many lives could have been saved if we addressed this two years ago? Back then, I proposed a new plan for treating and helping those battling addictions and mental health issues, but it fell on deaf ears. Nothing was done then and nothing has been done since. And the issue has only gotten worse.
Again, the plan Lakewood is trying to implement is a start but more needs to be done and done now. The city doesn’t have a specific fall launch date for the program and is waiting to hear if it will receive about $300,000 in federal funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to pay for it. The plan, as laid out, will:
- Deploy four “peer support specialists” — people in long-term addiction recovery — to intervene with people in the emergency department after an overdose, in the municipal court probation office, and in one local fire station, which will be open around the clock for people who need treatment referrals.
- Provide rapid access to treatment and recovery resources for those who are ready.
- Track the impact of the program to see if it can be replicated in other Northeast Ohio communities.
I see this plan, as outlined, as only being reactive in nature. It just isn’t enough. We can not just react after an individual is at their worst. We cannot just react after a person almost killed themselves succumbing to an addiction. We can not just react after someone has committed crimes to feed their addiction. We cannot just react after failing to help those with mental health issues after they choose to self-treat.
We need to do more than just react, we need to have a plan that is both proactive and reactive. If we are only counseling people at a hospital or in their homes, then we have failed as a community. We need to address their needs, problems, and addictions before they get to a hospital. We need to work with local medical professionals and social workers to open a clinic that would help battle addiction and address mental health issues. By helping our troubled citizens, we are not only saving lives, but also bettering our community and making it an even better place to live.
In addition, the city should implement a youth mentoring program to help mold the future of Lakewood. By helping our kids stay focused, driven, and motivated, we will help our city continue to grow and thrive.
I propose a multi layered plan very similar to what the City of Baltimore and New York are doing. Those in need will have immediate access to an addiction counselor or social worker. We will ensure treatment on demand, working towards a 24/7 treatment center for addiction. Lakewood prides itself on being a community filled with good neighbors. We will set up a community advisory committee, develop a standardized good neighbor agreement, and establish best practices for substance use disorder providers and community members (including how to deal with issues like loitering, cleanliness, and security). By working together, we will lead the way and be the model of how a community comes together.
We will coordinate efforts with treatment providers and law enforcement, work collaboratively to obtain help for people with behavioral health disorders, and increase support for drug treatment courts and other diversion programs. We will implement a comprehensive strategy to educate and inform residents, businesses, and other key stakeholders. We will end the opioid epidemic in Lakewood, Ohio.
Good first step Lakewood, but, unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. If we don’t act now, it will only cost our city and our fair citizens even more.