'Not Far from Me'

A public forum to discuss the opioid epidemic will be held in Pike County on Thursday, July 18 — an event that is part of a statewide series of public discussions about this crisis.

According to the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, two of its social medicine faculty, Berkeley Franz and Daniel Skinner, recently edited a book which “aims to foster a frank and open discussion of this epidemic and its community impact, by sharing the stories, pictures and poems of Ohioans from 20 counties. On Thursday, July 18, a public forum will bring that discussion to Pike County.”

The public forum will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 18 at the Garnet A. Wilson Public Library of Pike County, 207 North Market Street, Waverly.

This community conversation is part of a statewide series of public discussions, which is supported by the Ohio Humanities Council, and has an accompanying website with resources for those who wish to organize such public conversation events in their own communities. The website is at https://notfarfromme.org/

The new book, edited by Franz and Skinner and published by The Ohio State University Press, is entitled “Not Far from Me: Stories of Opioids and Ohio.”

According to information from OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, “The book aims to destigmatize addiction by showing how across-the-board its impact has been.”

“That’s part of why the book is named ‘Not Far from Me,’” Franz said. “Because we never realized how many people had been affected. Even people you might not have thought of, like a teacher. We knew it would affect doctors and patients, and firefighters, people like that, but we didn’t realize the scope of who was affected in Ohio. So we really did want to leave it open, to hear some stories that might challenge the existing narratives around opioid abuse.”

“Nobody’s escaping it now. It’s in every family, every community, every church,” stated one of the book’s contributors, author Annie Highwater of Columbus suburb Grove City.

Highwater writes about how her star athlete son struggled with and overcame addiction. According to a press release from OU, Hightower agreed that showing the personal face of the problem can help people understand that addiction doesn’t happen only to certain flawed individuals.

“I wanted to get across two things,” she said. “First, that it can happen to any family no matter how that family presents. Because my family looked from the outside like a church-going family. My mom doesn’t even cuss! And I wanted to present that anyone can recover no matter how bad it gets.”

More than 50 people from 20 counties across the state contributed to the book, according to OU, and the book can be ordered from The Ohio State University Press, https://ohiostatepress.org/books/titles/9780814255384.html .

The book features a forward by Ted Strickland, former Congressman and Ohio governor, and, according to OU, the book “collects personal accounts from a variety of Ohioans, including recovering drug abusers, affected family members, members of the clergy, health professionals, government officials and more.

“Most of the contributions are written stories, but others are poetry or photographs. Taken together, they offer a portrait of life on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic in a state that’s among the hardest hit in America.”

“Other books have worked this territory, notably Sam Quinones’ 2015 work, ‘Dreamland,’ a press release from OU states. “But where ‘Dreamland’ used stories related by the author, ‘Not Far from Me’ tells its tale through the voices of its contributors.”

“It was really important for us to think about getting different perspectives in the conversation,” Franz explained. “We’ve heard a lot about the opioid epidemic in Ohio but also nationally. People have come up with a lot of ideas about why this problem exists and what it’s going to take to solve it. We wanted to hear from the people who know this intimately instead of speaking for them, which I think has been done a lot. We believe that their perspectives matter.”

“And the words that they use matter,” added Skinner. “Paraphrasing somebody is different than letting their words come out. We spent a good deal of time in our introduction talking about some of the interesting word choices and even words that seemed a little bit to be traps or potentially stigmatizing language. And I think that one of the themes of the book is that the contributors are working out the very language that we want to use to talk about this thing.”

According to OU, the book is broken up by themes, with sections on establishing place, processing loss, making sense, devising solutions and challenging assumptions.

“The aim is to allow for a kind of community forum, in which firsthand experience can replace boilerplate concepts of ‘crisis’ and ‘epidemic,’ an OU press release states.

Another contributor to the book, Joe Gray, Ph.D., is a chemical dependency counselor, and he served for 18 years as the executive director of Health Recovery Services, headquartered in Athens County.

According to an OU press release, Gray, in his essay, recalls how he watched opioids, including heroin, begin to take the county by storm starting in late 2007.

Gray agrees that stories like those in “Not Far from Me” can help many people get a better grasp of the issue.

“I think for a lot of people, storytelling is the way to go,” Gray said. “It’s not what persuades academics, but for the general public, it’s what seems to move them. For people who can’t relate to the statistics, it can make it easier for them to relate to other people’s experience. When they read stories about how people got addicted, it helps them to identify with them and maybe removes some of the stigma.”

“I was really unprepared for the emotional aspects of being an editor of this collection,” Skinner said. “I enjoyed talking to contributors early on, but I didn’t realize that I was going to become close to some of them, that I would be on the phone just listening to them, that I would actually cry myself … And for me, that was transformational. It helped me to realize the depth of the situation.”

All after-tax sales proceeds from the book will be donated to three Ohio organizations that deal with opioid addiction: Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery; Circle Health Services; and Health Recovery Services.

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