Overdose deaths: A to Z, no age limit

Their names ranged from A as in Allie to Z as in Zachary. Their ages from 15 to 63. You may have known one of them. Perhaps a family member, neighbor or mere acquaintance. What they had in common was tragic: death by overdose.

A list recently provided through the Columbiana County Coroner’s Office starkly reveals that Allie was 22 when she died. Zachary was 26. The 15-year-old victim was named Hunter and the 63-year-old Sandra. There are 35 other first names and respective ages listed on the coroner’s report.

A staggering total of 39 overdose deaths in our county since the start of 2013. And counting. Compare that to 16 for all of 2012.

Brenda Hamilton doesn’t want her daughter to become a statistic. Even if it requires the toughest of love. Hamilton emerged as a public anti-drug crusader in May.

During a May 2 court hearing for her 25-year-old daughter – arrested on drug possession charges – she asked for the court’s help. She told Judge Scott Washam in Columbiana County Common Pleas Court that has been trying to help her daughter battle addiction for more than a year.

At one point she had enrolled her in a drug program in Cleveland, but then brought her back to Columbiana County.

“I believe she should be drug tested more often,” Hamilton said in court. Then looking at her daughter, she added, “And you may be mad at me for saying this. We have a huge problem in our city and the surrounding cities. We need to stand up, or we’re going to lose all our children.”

Hamilton’s daughter did not get released on house arrest as she sought. Instead she was placed in jail, deemed a high risk for recommitting drug-related crimes. Instead of parole she was sent to the Eastern Ohio Correctional Center in Lisbon on June 24. There she will undergo rehab.

Hamilton fully supports her daughter being in jail as a precaution. She admitted that one of her most difficult moments came on Mother’s Day when she visited her daughter in jail.

“She didn’t want anything to do with me,” she confided. “It hurt to visit a child in the county jail and for her to turn her back on you. She wants to be out on house arrest but needs the structured environment. Addicts want their freedom I’m the person between her and that freedom.”

She stressed that all you need to know about some addicts is that they are willing to risk putting toxic items such as battery acid and Drano – common methamphetamine ingredients – into their bodies for the sake of a high.

Hamilton, a longtime area resident now living in Salem, accepts that putting her story out there for public scrutiny carries some concerns.

“When we were in court it wasn’t planned that my story in front of a judge would become a newspaper story,” she said. “But it hit the newspapers. It got to the point where I didn’t know what else to do. Hiding behind it isn’t helping anyone. Savings my daughter’s life is more important than what anybody in this town thought of me or her. At one time I was clueless. It wasn’t until this past year that I pulled up my sleeves and learned everything I could about it. If I didn’t find tough love I would end up burying her.”

The proactive Hamilton serves as administrator for Ohio C.A.N. (Change Addiction Now), a non-profit group trying to illuminate the problem of drug addiction and educate families on the help that’s out there for themselves and their drug-addicted child or family member.

She and Cindy Koumoutzis, who is also the parent of a drug addict and serves as state director for Ohio C.A.N., have worked together to organize the Steps of Hope Walk a Mile in MY Shoes Rally held last month in Salem.

Two other events are scheduled. A “Lights of Hope” will take place Sept. 13. Three candles will be lit that day as lights of hope for the 23.5 million drug addicted Americans. National Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31. September is designated as National Recovery Month.

The three candles will have special meaning. The red candle will be for those with current addictions; the white substance users in recovery; and, the black or silver candle as memorials to lost lives.

“These candles represent our hope that we can one day end this national epidemic of death and despair,” Hamilton said. “It is time to stop blaming the substance users and their families. It is time to stop all the finger pointing. It is time to join our voices and look for real solutions.”

On Aug. 17 at 1 p.m. in Salem’s Waterworth Memorial Park, a Half-A-Buck Potluck will be held. Ohio C.A.N. is asking those attending to bring a dish of their choice to serve at least 20. The event is free of charge. Meal cost will be based on a half-a-dollar per scoop or piece. Proceeds will benefit the battle against addiction.

“We anticipate a huge turnout as we invite the tri-county to attend,” Hamilton said. “Expect to be educated by listening to the voices that matter, those whose lives have been touched by substance use. We will hear voices of recovery, voices of hope and voices still struggling. Learn the most recent statistics and what you can do to help.”

She urged people to visit the Ohio C.A.N. Facebook link at www.facebook.com/groups/OhioCAN/ where they can find a lot of information or visit Hamilton at ohiowecan1@gmail.com.