Out of 88 counties in Ohio, Jefferson County ranks third when it comes to deaths due to prescription drug overdose.
The statistic brought an initial surprised "you're kidding me" kind of response from the Steubenville Kiwanis Club audience that welcomed Catherine Sanders as the guest speaker recently.
Sanders is the drug and alcohol prevention educator with Jefferson Behavioral Health System, her full-time job, and also serves as chair of the Jefferson County Opiate Task Force.
Guest speaker Catherine Sanders talks with Kris Haught, second vice president, before the start of a recent Steubenville Kiwanis Club meeting.
-- Janice Kiaski
The task force meets on the third Wednesday of each month at the Jefferson County Department of Job and Family Services building, 125 S. Fifth St., Steubenville, at 1 p.m.
Sign-in is at the front lobby.
"Anyone who wants to contribute to the drug prevention efforts, specifically the opiate epidemic and prescription drug abuse issues in our county, are welcome to attend," she said.
"I'm someone who has grown up in this area, and I was tired of standing on the sidelines while our communities are having more and more issues with drug abuse. Most people think it doesn't affect them if they aren't doing the drugs. It does. It affects our economy, it affects our safety, and most importantly, it affects our kids," Sanders said.
A Richmond native, 2007 graduate of Edison High School and graduate of Kent State University with a degree in educational studies and leadership administration, Sanders said she's learned a lot of statistics in her job, that being a most disturbing one.
Her job with JBHS takes her out into communites to give presentations on various subjects, such as social media bullying, bullying in general, different drugs and alcohol and addictions, including gambling.
"I'm always up for speaking engagements. I love to spread the word and facts," Sanders said of her availability to be a speaker.
"The attorney general and the governor have listed opiates and prescription drugs as being an epidemic in the state of Ohio," she said.
And it begs "the big quesion - what do we do?" Sanders said
"I don't know," she said, "but what I do know is with the Opiate Task Force we're able to bring different minds to the table, and they can give their 2 cents, and we'll try to come together to put a little dent in the issue," Sanders told the Kiwanians during their noon luncheon and business meeting held at the Steubenville YWCA.
"To me personally, I think it starts in the school systems, teaching the kids," Sanders said. "A lot of times I tell these kids that I'm not naive. After they leave the school doors, I am well aware they are going to make decisions that aren't always the best. Every action has a consequence whether it's good or bad, and I'm really pushing that, but I am also educating these kids about the drugs themselves from square one," she said.
"For instance, a lot of people don't know that for every pound of meth (methamphetamine) that is created in maybe one person's basement, there's 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste that are sitting there for that 1 pound of meth, so you're seeing these meth lab busts and things blowing up from making it, and then thinking because you're not the one doing it or maybe it's not your loved one doing it that it doesn't involve you, but 5 to 6 pounds of toxic waste - what are you going to do with that," Sanders challenged the audience to consider the ramifications.
Left in a basement, for instance, it could come in contact with children or pets, she cited as one bad scenario, or outside, "it's going to get in your neighbor's well system, so it's (meth problem) here, it's not going anywhere, and it's getting worse."
In her job with JBHS, Sanders said she is going into school systems with a curriculum called "Too Good for Drugs." The curriculum is age appropriate for kindergarten through high school. It's flexible in length and is a free service. She said she is available to go into schools or to address youth groups that might be interested.
A 5K event is being organized for September, which is recovery month, she said.
Sanders said JBHS has a three-phase program for people who are individuals ready to take control of their addiction issue, who are there by order of the court system or are there because of some at-home intervention. "The highest success rate is for people there for themselves," Sanders said. A graduation is held for those who make it through the program.
She said there may be two graduates out of 16 who have begun the process initially.
"As far as the Opiate Task Force goes, our involvement in the community is we currently have funded two drop-off boxes where people can drop off prescription drugs. It's 24-7. The current location up and running is at the Steubenville Police Department," Sanders said, noting there's a goal to have more as the task force takes in the county, not just Steubenville. "There is a big heroin issue all over this county, specifically Toronto has a big problem with that, so our second location will be there soon at the Toronto Police Department as well," she said.
"A positive that we have found is a lot of people are willing to get rid of their prescription drugs," she said. "What happens is a lot of elderly people especially are scared to have their prescription drugs sitting in their homes," she said. "They want to clear the medicine cabinets and dispose of those properly.
Sanders said people who don't want to dispose of out of date or no longer needed prescriptions should not flush them down the toilet if they don't want to take them to drop-off boxes. Instead the pills should be placed in wet coffee grounds or cat litter and then put in the garbage.
In November, participation in National Drug Take-Back Day was successful locally, she said. "While we were there, we collected more in two hours than they did in the previous year for the entire day. That says a lot to us," Sanders said. "Either there's more prescription drugs in this area, or we had the word out pretty well for people to come. Again, the majority of people coming were the elderly people bringing Macy's bags full of prescription drugs."
Sanders said there's another age group, however, say from 18 to as old as 60, that wants to hang on to prescription drugs to give to a relative, for instance, or to "save for a rainy day, but there's a lot of laws that come into play."
After the meeting, Sanders said the task force is funding a phone application that is free to download. "It will allow students, teachers and all members of the community to anonymously report any violence that they know is going to occur, drug possession, as well as illegal possession of a weapon," she said.
Sanders said opiates and prescription drugs are highly addictive.
"We need to educate ourselves and our community about these issues and especially kids. I always say that I'm not naive to the fact that people are going to make their decisions for themselves. So all I can do, and all we can do is educate each other about what is available, the effects of it, the signs to look for if someone you know has a problem, and where they can go to get help," Sanders said.
"This task force will soon be joining the anti-drug coalition. Together we will have various community leaders and members joining forces to attack this epidemic," she said.
Drug addiction doesn't discriminate, according to Sanders. "It's not a certain stereotype issue - the most people that we see coming into JBHS are actually white women, middle class women that are addicted to heroin because, guess what, they were addicted to prescription drugs, but it's cheaper to get heroin," Sanders said.
Sanders said Russia's flesh-eating, heroin-like krokodil drug contains among other things codeine and gasoline. "What's happening is people are coming to the United States, and they're making it because it's actually cheaper than making regular heroin, so maybe someone is addicted to heroine and thinks they're buying heroin, but krokodil is cheaper to make, so they're going to be taking the krokodil and thinking it's regular heroin," she said.
"The life expectantcy of being on krokodil is one to two years. It literaly eats away your flesh," she said.
Sanders urged the audience members to keep their eyes open and be observant, to look for signs or changes in people's eating habits, hygiene and personality.
She also urged against being an enabler.
All it takes is one bad decision for bad consequences, according to Sanders.
"I'm telling you - all it takes with heroin and meth is one time to be hooked," she said.
Kris Haught, second vice president, presided at the meeting where guests included Steubenville High School Key Club members Amanda Nodianos, senior representative, and Ashlee Taylor, program coordinator. They were introduced by Ross Ivkovich, SHS Key Club adviser.
Dave Mosti was program chair.