West Jefferson Mayor Ray Martin is seeking a champion to lead a community group in battling the area’s drug epidemic.
“We’re not going to be able to police our way out of this,” Martin said Monday, echoing Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
DeWine hosted a statewide “Ideas that Work” conference Jan. 21 that focused on fighting the drug epidemic that has swept across the state.
Nearly 800 Ohio officers and leaders attended the event. Martin and West Jefferson Police Chief Terry Ward were among those representing various Madison County agencies.
The seven-hour conference inspired Martin, who hopes residents will step up to help address prevention and treatment of drug addiction, as well as policing efforts.
“They held this meeting at a church for a purpose,” he said.
The focus also needs to be long-term, he said, citing a statistic from a local judge that it takes about five years after someone quits heroin to start thinking the same way he did before he started using.
Martin envisions the community task force as source of information and support — he hopes to involve residents, county leaders, village leaders, local officers, emergency responders, doctors, clergy and school leaders.
A large part of the mission will be raising awareness of resources available to individuals who want help or individuals who want to help family members, such as area Narcotics Anonymous meetings and treatment programs, and teaching individuals what to look for to catch drug activity in their families and neighborhoods early.
Reducing drugs in the community will also decrease “nickel-and-dime thefts” and other crimes committed by individuals trying to feed an increasingly expensive habit, Martin said.
“Everyone needs to know there is a drug problem,” he said. “We can’t hide it because we don’t want West Jefferson to look bad. We need to be open and work together to eradicate it.”
Ward has already agreed to assign his department’s K9 officer to be the police liaison to the community group, Martin said. The mayor also hopes the police chief will be a more public member of his team while he is in office, he added.
Building relationships across the community is key to tackling the pervasive drug issue, Martin said.
“We love the people on the drugs,” he said. “Love the sinner, not the sin, they say. The people using are loved ones of ours.”
West Jefferson United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Patricia Oesterle agrees.
The church briefly housed a drug clinic that offered treatment, but not enough people came to make the program financially feasible, she said.
Currently, the church houses Narcotics Anonymous meetings twice a week.
“My community, the Methodist Church, understands full well the devastation that drugs can reap on a family,” Oesterle said. “We have, or know about, people whose children or grandchildren are involved in drugs, sometimes resulting in grandparents raising grandchildren. As a church group, we’re trying to be as supportive as possible of solutions.”
The church offers meeting space to nonprofit groups with goals that align with the church’s, such as Drug-Free West Jeff, she said.
Oesterle also runs a Good Samaritan fund that helps provide money for needs such as housing, utility bills and gas.
“It’s shocking the number of people who need assistance for basic needs,” she said. “Many of these issues are drug-related.”
Drug addiction is often addressed openly within her congregation, she said — whether through prayer requests for addicts or celebrations of recovery and sobriety.
“I don’t think generally that people hide those issues anymore, at least in our congregation. They’re just too rampant,” Oesterle said. “A community-wide task force would be a good thing — there are lots of areas we can work together.”
Data was not immediately available to show how many drug overdoses emergency responders have treated in West Jefferson.
Ward did not return a call for comment.
To get involved, contact Martin at 614-879-7674, 614-560-5754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP
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