Franklin Co. summit looks for solutions to addiction, rising overdose problems

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In the last decade, overdose deaths in Franklin County have increased by 400 percent.

Wednesday Franklin County first responders came together in an effort to end that trend.

As a little girl, Vanessa Perkins wasn't sure what her future would hold.

She thought maybe she'd work in a dentist's office. She never could have conceived of the darkness in store for her.

"I did really demoralizing, terrible things to people, to myself. Just to keep going. It was awful,” she said.

Stealing from those she loved, her body being sold for someone else's profit- all driven by the demon of addiction.

"It was the absolute darkest that I've ever been. When there's no hope and no love, no joy, when none of that is around, I don't want to breathe. So that was my goal, was to stop breathing," Perkins said.

She says getting arrested, and getting into treatment saved her life.

Heroin at Home: An Ohio Epidemic

"They started to teach me about what was really going on with me, that it’s actually the disease of addiction, and that there is a solution for it," Perkins said.

Understanding that disease and searching for those solutions, is why hundreds came together Wednesday for the Franklin County Opiate Crisis Summit.

Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz convened the summit after studying overdose deaths for more than a year.

In Franklin County those deaths are most often white males in their 40s, who lived or died in these zip codes: 43207, 43204, 43223 and 43228.

But Ortiz says drugs in Ohio are a plague without a profile.

"We're seeing many of them start at 14- that die,” Ortiz said. “So the takeaway from this is that prevention should start early."

Her office has seen senior citizens, and last year, even two toddlers dead by overdose.

"It was needless,” she said. “It shouldn't have happened. And it saddens me."       

Doctor Erin McKnight works with drug addicted teens at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

"I really want parents and their kids to have candid open discussions about things,” she said. “That can be hard."

She says the alternative is even harder.

"They think that drugs and those types of things aren't going to happen in their schools, aren't going to happen to their kids, and so maybe don't necessarily think as strongly about prevention efforts, or think about those medications that are left in their cabinets from an old surgery or things like that," Dr. McKnight said.

Today Vanessa Perkins has six years of sobriety, a new outlook, and a message:

"I never thought I would get sober, and I am sober. I never thought I'd be okay, and I am. If they're breathing, there's still hope. Don't give up."

The result from Wednesday's summit will be a community action plan laying out what resources and services Franklin County has, where there are gaps, and steps to bridge those gaps.

You'll find the latest data on opiate-related deaths in our community, by clicking the image below.