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Grant combats growing opioid epidemic in Wadsworth

Three people pose for photo
Dr. Andy Hill, Chrissy Gashash and Matt Hiscock helped start the Wadsworth Drug Free Community Coalition in July 2015.

The statistics are staggering. In Medina County alone, there were 258 reported drug overdose cases in 2016 more than double the rate of the previous year, according to the Medina County Drug Task Force.

This alarming epidemic affects people of all ages, races and socio-economic classes. No community is exempt, including Wadsworth, which recorded one of the highest numbers of overdoses in the county last year.

In 2015, the dramatic increase in police calls for overdoses caught the attention of Matt Hiscock, Wadsworth's director of public safety. At the same time, Dr. Andy Hill, superintendent of Wadsworth City Schools, was witnessing the impact of overdoses on teens and parents in his district.

Members of the community who had lost sons and daughters to addiction were rising up with urgency, asking officials to bring this devastating problem into the light.

In response, Hiscock, Hill and a group of other community leaders and citizens created the Wadsworth Drug Free Community Coalition. Organizers knew the best place to start raising awareness about addiction was in the schools, so they began sending emails to parents and posting on the district's website to encourage family conversations at the dinner table.

Students also created a resource guide for law enforcement officers to hand out when responding to overdose calls so victims would know where to get help. In addition, they started a 24-hour hotline called the Wadsworth Recovery Connection. Operated by the Wadsworth United Methodist Church and a group of volunteers, the hotline assists people who are searching for local service agencies.

Group of girls stand on curb holding Red Ribbon Week signs
Campaigns like Red Ribbon Week increase awareness among students about the importance of staying drug-free, a core part of the community coalition's mission.

The community coalition officially became a nonprofit in August 2016. Since then, it has grown to more than 40 members, empowering drug-free families and teens while providing resources to those who currently struggle with addiction.

"Addiction is a family disease, and the effects of the substance abuse epidemic have been far-reaching and crippling to the fabric of the community," said coalition member Chrissy Gashash. "At the same time, we know there is also a large population of teens who choose to be drug-free, and our program with the school will focus on eliminating stigmas on both sides of the equation."

In 2017, the Medina County Women's Endowment Fund awarded a $3,500 grant to support the organization's community-based prevention and awareness programs, including a youth-led public service announcement campaign in local media outlets and schools. A monthly speaker series at the Wadsworth Library and outreach at downtown events will also continue to raise awareness about the effects of substance abuse.

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