ATHENS COUNTY, Ohio — For Athens resident Laura Gilmore, this is a day each year to reflect on loss, destigmatize addiction and share recovery resources: International Overdose Awareness Day is observed on Aug. 31. Ohio first began officially observing Overdose Awareness Day in 2021.
Gilmore lost her son, Jacob, of Athens, to a fentanyl overdose in 2020. He was 24 years old.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths are a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. More than three-fourths of those deaths mainly involve synthetic opioids. Increasingly, more overdoses involve stimulants, such as methamphetamine. Since 1999, more than 1 million people have died from drug overdoses in the United States.
Data analysis by Harm Reduction Ohio shows that Athens County had low death rates from opioid overdoses in 2017 and 2018 compared to other counties. But overdose death rates spiked starting in 2019; by 2021, a year after Jacob Gilmore died, Athens County had the 39th most overdose deaths statewide, a jump of nearly 45 places.
What has helped Gilmore process her grief is helping others and “trying to make sure that other families didn’t go through what I went through.” Since her son’s death, Gilmore has helped fundraise on multiple occasions for Athens nonprofit The John W. Clem Recovery House.
“I think the Clem House does a really great job with getting people back on their feet and providing them with a lot of resources to be successful after graduation,” Gilmore said. Oftentimes, she noted, many people who leave recovery facilities have only the clothes on their backs.
It wasn’t easy to get her own son help; in fact, she described it as “very difficult,” despite having “amazing insurance.”
“Getting him connected and staying connected was so hard because you’re working with an addict — they’re an adult. There’s nothing I can do on my end,” she said. “Because he’s an adult, he can choose. So he would start the process, and then he would stop going, and then you’d get him back in again, and then he would stop going. … Each time it took forever to get him back into counseling.”
Support our work to deliver independent local news for Athens County
Like what you are reading?
Each time Jacob decided to get help, there was a delay between the initial reaching out and the actual accessing of resources — sometimes months. From her experience, Gilmore believes that when someone with a substance use disorder reaches out for help, “that needs to be a setup process. You need to catch them quickly, because just as quickly as they’re agreeing to it, is often how quickly they will walk away.”
Gilmore found that — especially during the height of the coronavirus pandemic — local resources were generally at capacity. She also found it difficult to obtain information for a patient who wasn’t herself.
“It’s a very difficult process,” Gilmore said. “And I’ve tried to help some other families through this process, but since it’s you [and not the patient], you just hit brick wall after brick wall. … It’s so hard to get into rehab facilities because they’re full.”
However, along with the Clem House, she cited the Athens chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness as a particularly useful resource, not just locally but also to people nationwide.
Gilmore believes that more funding should be devoted to addiction and rehabilitation services. She would like to see funds from the OneOhio Opioid Settlement used for that purpose.
“I would love to see them use that money for the good of opening more rehab centers or expanding rehab, or recovery centers or something, because that’s what needs to happen,” she said.
Nearly every local government in Athens County is slated to receive a share of the opioid settlement funds. Only Canaan Township and the village of Buchel are absent from the list of governments in the memorandum of understanding that created OneOhio.
Since Jacob’s death, Gilmore has also worked to educate friends, neighbors and her community on reversing opioid overdoses through naloxone — commonly referred to as Narcan, the name-brand device that administers the drug.
“Jacob’s roommate had a lot of guilt that he was home when it happened and couldn’t help,” she said. “And, you know, he said, ‘Had I known, I could have tried Narcan.’”
For Gilmore, helping others while navigating her own life and grief “makes me feel like I have a purpose.
“Losing my son is so difficult, but if I can keep his memory alive by talking about it and helping one other person stay sober, it just makes me feel like his death wasn’t for nothing.”
Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) is a statewide program that provides both naloxone and training on how to use it for free at every health department in Ohio. In addition to the Athens City-County Health Department on West Union Street, naloxone also is available at Integrated Services Behavioral Health off East State Street in Athens.
Free naloxone is also available from naloxone.ohio.gov.
This year’s loss
Nine individuals have died by drug overdoses this year in Athens County, according to the Athens City-County Health Department. Several more death records are pending.
One individual’s county of residence was classified as “homeless,” while another was from Guernsey County. The remaining seven were Athens County residents.
Five individuals who died by overdose were found to have fentanyl and methamphetamine in their systems; two were found to have fentanyl only, while one was found to have fentanyl and oxycodone, and another to have only methamphetamine.
Seven of those who died were male. Ages ranged from 31 to 62, with an average age of 48 and a median age of 47.
In 2022, 28 people died by drug overdoses in Athens County, an increase of three from 2021, according to health department Deputy Registrar Kat Elliott.
Local observances, today, Aug. 31:
- The South East Ohio Hope Center will be giving away naloxone, fentanyl and xylazine test strips from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Glouster Public Library, at 20 S. Toledo St. in Glouster.
- The Hocking County Opiate Task Force will host an observance featuring speakers, recovery resources, a memorial banner, free naloxone and drug disposal bags from 2 to 4 p.m. at Worthington Park, at 1 S. Market St. in Logan.
- The Vinton County Health Department, along with the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, will be holding a tabling event at the Vinton County Fairgrounds, at 31471 SR 93 in McArthur, on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. featuring speakers and a memorial butterfly release.
Additionally, according to the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, also known as the 317 Board, Narcan and Deterra drug disposal bags will be available at Athens County Public Libraries.
Corinne Colbert contributed reporting.
We are interested about hearing news in our community! Let us know what's happening!
Get in touch and share a story!