Second Community Opioid Summit offers hope - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Second Community Opioid Summit offers hope

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A second Community Opioid Summit was held at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown on Wednesday.

The event was sponsored by the Mahoning County Juvenile Court Advisory Board and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The community room was so packed it was standing room only for the three hour event that was put together by Mahoning County Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick and moderated by 21 News anchor Derek Steyer.

Among the speakers were Lieutenant Sutton from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Guy Burney from the Youngstown CIRV Commission, Dr. David Kennedy from the Mahoning County Coroner's Office and Dr. Joseph Sitarik from the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center.

Also addressing the crowd was several recovering addicts including, Niki Campana of Struthers who admits she was hooked on drugs for 20 years since the age of 12.

Campana also admits she was using drugs during two pregnancies.  She says her addiction didn't start with heroin, but it ended with heroin, and she tells 21 News she went to Neil Kennedy for help 17 times.

"I compare it to demon possession. Honestly, like I want to live, but I want to die.  I feel like everybody is better off without me.  But I just kept trying and I have no idea why.  It's a really dark and scary place that you don't even think that you can crawl out of. I know I didn't think I could get out of it, and when I did I know I really didn't have any intention on staying clean when I first went to treatment," Campana said.

Campana says she used to call Neil Kennedy her vacation home, it was like a joke.  "Like to go there all the time it was like nothing," she said.

The Struthers woman says the people at Neil Kennedy knew what they were talking about, but it took her being ready to listen.

Campana tells 21 News the moment she began to wake up. "I think, honestly, when I was in detox and I had no one to call for the first time ever. My family was upset, I wasn't allowed to see my kids at all.  My family hadn't talked to me for months.  You just have this moment of clarity.  Like we say in the program that first honest prayer, and it's God help me."

Now Campana is working at New Day Recovery in Rogers and is doing well.  She's been clean for four years.  But she has difficult days because she has seen a number of friends die from their addiction over the last few years, people that she never thought would die.  She says she's grown up a lot, getting clean at 33 right before turning 34.  Admitting she had to fix and undo and unlearn a lot of things.

Duane Piccirilli, the Executive Director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said this second Community Opioid Summit was supposed to focus on hope and prevention and he thinks they did that.

"I think people heard stories from people who have lived it.  People say to us how do you keep doing this?  Well, when you hear success stories that kind of keeps you going.  And I think the most important thing you can tell somebody is they're not alone and I think today she told us she struggled and she went through something and she wasn't alone, and that's why we try to be here for everybody.  But recovery is not easy, and there are setbacks and she said she kept coming back and the door was always open, and I think that's what it's all about."

Dr. Joseph Sitarik of the Neil Kennedy Recovery Center also attended the Community Opioid Summit and told 21 News, "I believe awareness is increasing.  I believe we're getting more people to treatment.  The biggest change I'm seeing is we're starting to understand the disease for what it is, a primary disease of the brain.  It's not a behavioral disorder.  This isn't by choice. There may have been when these patients originally picked up or started using. but they're no longer in control.  And so the understanding that this is a disease, these people are sick, not bad. They may do bad things. The disease hijacks your brain to the point that it alters your judgment, your perception, your decision making, and you violate your moral compass, and you do things that you otherwise wouldn't have done in active addiction.  That doesn't make you bad, that makes you very sick."

Recovering addict Donald Slocum of Youngstown is going on 50-years- old and has been on drugs since he was 18.  He has been clean for over 120 days and says it's a battle everyday, but more importantly it's a victory.  "I have a valid license today. I don't have to cheat on no urine test. I can stick my chest out.  I mean, it ain't always happy sunshine and cupcakes, but I'm better without drugs in my life than I was with them."

Slocum currently works part-time at Home Depot, and is also scheduled to start a welding certification program so he will be able to have a good career and earn a decent living for his family in spite of his drug background and felony record.

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