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Op-ed: The heroin problem needs to be addressed or it will keep growing

Op-ed: The heroin problem needs to be addressed or it will keep growing
Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 04, 2016

Laura Kunz is a longtime Cincinnati-area resident who now works in drug treatment in Florida.

Her article is part of WCPO's Heroin Project: How Do We Respond?

My husband and I were both born and raised in the Cincinnati suburbs.  Our families still reside in Anderson Township.  My mom's family are multigenerational Cincinnatians who've had strong ties to Over-the-Rhine since the late 1800's.  My husband's family developed a lot of the land that is now Anderson Township including the Beechmont Mall, now the Anderson Town Center.  We have very deep roots and many loved ones in Ohio. 

In 2008, my husband and I relocated from Cincinnati to South Florida. That same year, I found my own recovery from alcoholism through a community support group.  In 2009, I began working in the South Florida addiction treatment industry.  At the time, Florida had a massive prescription drug problem.  There was a "pill mill" or pain clinic on every block, it seemed.  At one point the number of Florida pill mills surpassed the number of McDonald's.

Laura Kunz

Working in the treatment industry allowed me to see the extent of the devastation caused by this epidemic. People of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds are being affected.  Although substance abuse treatment was effective for some, I saw it be ineffective for many more.  Once people became addicted to opiates, it was almost too late. 

I remember in 2011 when Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi began shutting down the pill mills.  Finally, there was hope! I can say that although the opiate epidemic is still alive and well in South Florida, it is not as severe as it was before 2011.

Similar to Ohio, one of the main challenges we face in Florida is state funding.  Many of the state-funded programs down here are overcrowded or have been shut down. People either have money and insurance for private treatment or they aren't receiving treatment.

Insurance fraud and unethical treatment practices are now rampant because addicts and their families become desperate.  If there is a way to save their loved ones they will do it, even if they are knowingly or unknowingly breaking the law. 

Since 2009, I have helped close to three dozen families from the Cincinnati area find addiction treatment resources.  Families I grew up with refer people to me knowing what I do in Florida.  The majority of those cases have been opiate and heroin addiction.

Just in the last year, I've helped two dozen of those three dozen families. I've been truly shocked and horrified at the rapid increase in use, abuse, robberies, overdoses and deaths. It's in the urban areas, the suburbs, the high schools, on the college campuses.

In 2014, a close family member became addicted to opiates.  He was an athlete at a local, private university.  I couldn't believe how easily he could get what he needed through doctor shopping and dealers on the college campuses.  Thankfully, because of what I do for a living, we were able to intervene and find him help quickly.  He is one of the many young adult lives saved by Suboxone and quality treatment and therapy. 

Last year I started a support group for parents of addicted children in Anderson. I was helping so many families battle the opiate and heroin epidemic that I thought it would be helpful to connect them all to share stories and resources.  Why suffer alone and in silence?

I founded Parents Helping Parents, which meets the first Tuesday of each month at a church in Anderson.  The local community, school districts and high school administrators have been incredibly supportive and invested in what we are doing for families.

Although I was thrilled to have support, I thought people here really are desperate for guidance and leadership. They feel helpless and overwhelmed. They feel like the problem has become too big and the little things are no longer making a difference.

My hope is that legislators see the opportunity that lies in front of them to provide guidance and leadership.  As we've seen in Florida, the problem will only grow and change shape unless it's addressed quickly, dramatically and from all angles.

The next meeting of Parents Helping Parents is from 7 to 8 PM Tuesday, Oct. 4 at Clough United Methodist Church, 2010 Wolfangel Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45255. The meeting is in the cafe near the the main entrance.