Jim Woods The Columbus Dispatch
The Hilltop is a neighborhood that has keenly felt the impact of the opioid epidemic.
Mayor Andrew J. Ginther talked about that and other problems as he brought his State of Columbus Neighborhood Conversations road show to the Hilltop Tuesday night.
About 200 people came to the J. Ashburn Jr. Boys & Girls Club to hear the mayor and a panel of experts talk about issues revolving around opioid addiction, public health and CelebrateOne — an initiative designed to reduce the infant-mortality rate.
What people in the Hilltop want are safe homes, clean neighborhoods and a crime-free environment, said Jay McCallister, chairman of the Greater Hilltop Area Commission and a panel member. He said the Hilltop has a core of working-class people who want the neighborhood to improve.
The root of many of the Hilltop‘s problems, participants agreed, can be traced to the opioid epidemic. McCallister said that much of the crime is centered along Sullivant Avenue, all the way out to Georgesville Road and the Wedgewood Apartments, which he believes drug dealers have used as a staging ground.
“A drug house on a street can bring down the entire street and the neighborhood,” McCallister said.
But the opioid epidemic has reached well beyond city neighborhoods and into the more comfortable suburbs of Dublin and Powell, said Dr. Laura Espy-Bell, another panel member and an emergency-medicine specialist at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center.
Espy-Bell said she has found that victims of abuse who come through the emergency room at Grant are of all ages; she even remembers treating an 80-year-old.
Much of the opioid addiction grows out of the use of prescription painkillers, with addicts often switching to heroin, Espy-Bell said. Both Espy-Bell and fellow panelist Dr. Dana Vallangeon of the Lower Lights Christian Health Center agreed that there needs to be a change in the way doctors treat pain.
The stigma of opioid addiction also needs to be removed, the panelists agreed.
Maryhaven treated more than 11,000 people last year, about 80 percent of them with opioid issues, said panelist Shawn Holt, president and CEO of Maryhaven, a behavioral-health-care facility.
“The saddest thing is we couldn‘t treat everybody that came to us,” Holt said.
The community has recognized the problem and responded by recently opening the Addiction and Stabilization Center at 1430 S. High St., a 55-bed facility on the South Side where overdose patients can be taken directly, Holt said.
Ginther did note Tuesday night that there has been some success when it comes to the city‘s infant-mortality rate. Sleep-related infant mortality went down by 50 percent last year.
Dr. Pat Gabbe of Moms2Be, another panelist, said the Weinland Park neighborhood is a real success story, with a drastic reduction in infant mortality, along with a big reduction in crime and property development upgrades. She said the neighborhood‘s turnaround can be traced to more than $50 million in investment by such groups as Campus Partners, Kroger and developers.
“They also got rid of the Short North Posse. I hope none of them are here,” Gabbe said, which drew a laugh from the audience.