The names of the dead mounted with terrifying speed.
Nick, Ashley, Angel, Joe, Sara, Ryan, Scott, Aaron, Megan, Joshua, Matt. Larissa, Alicia, Edwin, Dan, Jeff, Bobby, Murray, Chris, John, Ben.
On and on they were added in chalk — victims of drug overdoses. Friends. Family. Real people, not just statistics.
They were mourned as part of National Black Balloon Day on March 6, which recognized those lost to the opioid crisis.
“I hold all of you close to my heart,” wrote Sung Yoon on a black board outside the CARE Center for Addiction Recovery at Lorain County Community College. “I know that you all watch over me. I hope to see you all again.”
He and friends scrawled long lists of heroin and fentanyl victims. Yoon, who lives in a sober house and runs Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, said he’s lost so many friends he had trouble remembering all of their names.
“All of these people I knew closely,” he said, pointing to the board. “They all died. Every day I try to help someone stay sober and I stay sober. That’s all I can do.”
The event was sponsored locally by the CARE Center, which gave black balloons to all attendees who have lost a loved one to opioids.
Elaine Georgas, director of the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County, spoke.
Fortunately, the trend here and across the rest of the country shows a decline in deaths due to opioid overdoses, she said — but that doesn’t mean the crisis is over.
“This fight is a fight we need to all do together,” Georgas said.
Experts are taking a “no wrong doors” approach to saving lives. That means people struggling with substance abuse should find help wherever they wind up, whether it’s the justice system, a hospital, or a church.
Addiction is a disease attacking the brain and needs to be treated as such, said Georgas.
In Lorain County, there are now quick response teams that work in conjunction with many local police departments. Officers are connected with The LCADA Way and Firelands Counseling to provide follow-up calls to victims of overdoses.
All first-responders countywide carry naloxone, the life-saving anti-opioid spray, and as early as possible, health experts are teaming up with schools to teach students about drug dangers.
Georgas said the opioid epidemic has also pulled focus from how dangerous alcohol can be, the effects of marijuana on children, and a rise in vaping among sixth- through eighth-graders. All need to be addressed to protect the lives of Lorain County residents, she said.