LIMA — Drug abuse used to be one of those dark secrets people didn’t talk about. Law enforcement officers and judges dealt with it. Counselors and treatment experts helped when and where they could.That formula won’t work with the latest drug trend — prescription drug and opiate abuse — officials concede. That’s why stakeholders from across Allen County — judges, law enforcement officers, counselors and treatment experts alike — gathered at City Club on Monday to discuss the epidemic and raise awareness of its serious impact locally.“This is such a pervasive issue. It happens in every walk of life,” said Phil Atkins, associate director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties. “We’ve always said that about addiction but this time it’s really, really true. Every family is affected and every walk of life, every socioeconomic group.”The addictions tend to start out innocently enough. A person goes to the doctor for pain management and gets a legal prescription for an opiate-based painkiller. Then they become addicted. As it becomes more and more expensive to keep the habit up, many of the addicts? switch to heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available on the street.“I’ve heard it over and over again. It is such a predicable course of events. When you talk about there are 57 doses of an opiate painkiller for every man, woman and child in Allen County, that’s a lot,” Atkins said. “I think the economic toll is what has finally kicked us over the edge. Ohio really doesn’t have an unemployment problem, it has an opiate problem.”Jed Metzger, president and chief executive officer of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce, said he’s seen the devastating impact of the opiate drug issue in the local workforce. Metzger said a series of surveys and forums with area employers over the last year revealed a disturbing trend.“One of the areas that came forward was that employers couldn’t hire employees because they couldn’t pass the drug test. We heard that over and over and over again,” Metzger said. “I had a trucking company that actually interviewed 104 applicants and only two passed the drug test. It is a problem with businesses today more than ever.”With the growing awareness of the seriousness of the issue communities are coming together to address the epidemic, Atkins said. Agencies are developing prevention efforts, businesses are sponsoring drug take-back initiatives to get unused prescription drugs off the streets and forums like Monday’s session are being held to discuss what to do next, he said.“I think technology is going to be our biggest key in fighting this,” Atkins said. “When people can’t doctor shop and people can’t go from place to place then a lot of that is going to be cut out.”You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.