Anti-drug group wants permanent Amherst center

Last updated: June 24. 2014 10:09AM - 474 Views
By - news@theoberlinnews.com

Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-TimesBob Kamnikar explains to city council how the Amherst Community Task Force was launched and what it's doing now to fight heroin addiction.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-TimesBob Kamnikar explains to city council how the Amherst Community Task Force was launched and what it's doing now to fight heroin addiction.
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If you have property to donate to the cause, the Amherst Community Task Force wants to open a center here.

The group, formed last fall in reaction to the county’s heroin overdose crisis, wants a physical location in Amherst, member Ted Bledsoe told city council Monday.

The task force has been meeting monthly at restaurants, rallying a core group of about 15 activists who want to combat drugs and other ills.

The next meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 1 at Dragon Ranch Restaurant, 9488 Leavitt Rd. Meetings are open to the public.

A rash of heroin-related deaths, including 2011 Steele High School graduate and Comets sports stand-out Alex Rodriguez, drew attention to the drug problem.

Bob Kamnikar, an Amherst school board member who also serves as vice president of the task force, said it signalled a need to take action.

“We needed people to come alongside each other, people who had experience,” he told council.

He discovered that people from “good homes” that defied the stereotypes associated with drug abuse were struggling with addiction.

“My kids could be doing drugs right in my house and I didn’t even know the signs of it,” Kamnikar said.

Jim and Kathy Loos of Amherst attended Monday’s council meeting as well. Kamnikar said they know the toll drugs can take firsthand, as parents of an addict who has sought help.

Now they share their story with others in hopes that it will provide solace to families fighting the same battle.

Kamnikar said the Looses and other task force members are there to listen to parents or children who need to talk about addiction. They can also point families in the direction of help.

“I’m finding out there’s a lot of kids out there who can’t even talk to their parents,” he said. “For somebody to think it’s just a school issue, that’s wrong. We’re just fooling ourselves. A police issue? The police need help.”

One of the task force’s biggest goals is to provide teens with safe places to go to have fun. Kamnikar said he is working with Amherst churches to organize frequent community events for kids.

Amherst auditor David Kukucka praised the group’s anti-heroin efforts.

In addition to his duties for the city, he works for Ameritox, a drug screening company. Kukucka’s job is to convince physicians across the region to have expectant mothers and other patients tested for opiates.

“It’s amazing the horror stories they talk about,” he said. Doctors tell him how young people become addicted, move home, and steal prescription medications from family members.

The result: Overdose deaths are outpacing car crash deaths, increasing 366 percent statewide between 2000 and 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The problem cuts across all section of society, from pill parties where teens mix pharmaceutical cocktails to painkiller abuse by elderly patients. Kukucka said he works with a former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent who has purchased heroin from a pastor in a church parking lot.

City council president John Dietrich asked Kamnikar to return periodically to update officials on task force initiatives.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or on Twitter at @EditorHawk.

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