Opioid roundtable discussion sparks hope, tears

From left Fran Gerbig, Ohio Prevention Action Alliance assistant executive director makes a point as Becky Cropper, Brown County Farm Bureau member and 4-H educator and Roger Winemiller, a Clermont County County farmer listen during a roundtable discussion.

Rita Lahmers was substitute teaching one day in eastern Ohio when one of her elementary school students sought her out as a “safe adult” to talk to about his dilemma. This young boy’s father was using drugs, again, and he was worried that his little sister might get hurt. He asked if Lahmers could help him.

She did and social services was on-site that same day. What the little boy didn’t know is that Lahmers, a Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau member, has been at the forefront of efforts in her community to help combat the opioid epidemic through prevention efforts in partnership with others in eastern Ohio.

Her story was one of many shared Aug. 17 with USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett. Ohio Farm Bureau hosted a roundtable discussion on the impacts of the opioid epidemic on rural communities. Farm Bureau and about 20 other key partners participated in the discussion, which covered various angles in relation to the epidemic such as challenges associated with substance use disorder; strategies for prevention, treatment and recovery; and how these measures can be replicated to effectively address the epidemic in other rural communities.

Prevention programs

Brittany R. Sandidge, wellness & prevention specialist with Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, spoke about the prevention program Generation Rx and offered hope to what has become a searing crisis in many parts of the state.

“Ten years ago, it was rare to have these discussions at all,” she said, noting that the very fact the crisis is being talked about and seriously discussed as something that must be addressed and is being addressed at the local level is a gigantic step forward.

Hazlett and Dave Hall, USDA-Rural Development Ohio state director, listened as those who work in drug prevention programs, social work, law enforcement, programs with youth and more, detailed programs and projects that have been effective on a local level and may be adaptable to fit the needs of other communities. They offered agency help in making connections both in programming and in finding money to pay for local initiatives.

Hazlett, who has hosted several opioid roundtable discussions in different states throughout the country, said what she learned in Ohio could “help other states who don’t have the wisdom or expertise that is around this table.”

Personal stories

Some of the most powerful words from an at times emotional discussion came from Roger Winemiller, a Clermont County farmer and father who has been on the front-lines of the opioid epidemic for years. He shared his personal experiences several times with the group and expressed gratitude in his final remarks.

“As a parent who has lost two children to overdoses and has a third child going through treatment, I appreciate you more than you can ever imagine,” he said.

This fall Ohio Farm Bureau will host regional Hope for Ohio events. In its second year, Hope for Ohio is a project of Ohio Farm Bureau and other supporting organizations that works with 4-H and FFA members to encourage peer-to-peer prevention measures.


Our Ohio TV special – 20 Seconds of Courage

A 30-minute documentary film from ThinkTV tells the story of Roger and his family as they struggle to overcome the devastation of addiction. Faced with overwhelmed and underfunded rural support services, Roger and others in his town began reaching out to addicts and their families. Today this patchwork coalition includes a progressive judge, a concerned family physician and faith-based leaders– all working to save their community– one person at a time. But destigmatizing addiction, especially in conservative rural communities, is a rough road to travel. For many, that journey began with 20 seconds of courage.