Years before Ohio was ravaged by the opioid epidemic, Ohio State University President Michael Drake bonded with a heroin addict during his medical residency. The patient would later relapse and die soon after.
“It struck me that the power of the addiction, the compulsion of the addiction,” Drake said.
Drake’s personal experience witnessing the wrath of drug addiction has in part influenced his role in supporting a university effort to combat the mental health issue with OSU Extension, a program that educates communities in each of Ohio’s 88 counties using research conducted at the university.
The opioid epidemic has taken over Ohio and is affecting communities in every direction. It is estimated that 10,000 people in the state will die from an overdose this year.
For perspective, Ohio State’s record-breaking class of 2020 consisted of 7,885 students. Picture convocation at St. John arena with students flooding in to see the ceremony, filling the arena from top to bottom. The faces blurring together from left to right.
More people in Ohio will die this year from opioids than were in the arena that day; an entire freshman class at one of the biggest universities in America and then some.
“We certainly acknowledge that (opioid addiction) is a very serious problem and it takes all of us working together to come up with effective solutions,” Drake said. “One of the things that we can do as a university is help to connect various communities and partners that are all connected with us in one way or another but may not be connected with each other and use that as a way to share information about things that work.”
OSU Extension first began its mental-health-first aid programs in May to help educate Ohioans on how to help in related emergencies — drug addiction is considered a mental health issue.
We talked everyday about the fact that he was only in this position because he was a drug addict, because he was injecting heroin that caused him to get sick in the first place and nearly cost him his life – Michael Drake
Drake said Ohio State has faculty throughout campus conducting research on opioid addiction.
“We’re able to relay research and learn things about the psycho-social, behavioral biochemical aspects of addiction and try to learn how to effectively deal with people who suffer from various forms of addiction,” Drake said.
Drake said the patient he met while in residency was a man just 10 years older than he was at the time. The man was in the surgical intensive-care unit for having a serious heart infection as a result of the needles he used while shooting heroin into his body.
“He had serious surgery in the ICU for most of the whole month – five weeks – I was on the rotation, so I saw him every day,” Drake said.
Drake got to know this patient well over that time. He watched him go from someone nearly in a coma supported by tubes that ran throughout his body to someone strong, ready to be discharged into outpatient care.
“We talked everyday about the fact that he was only in this position because he was a drug addict, because he was injecting heroin that caused him to get sick in the first place and nearly cost him his life,” Drake said. “We had a good bond of supportive friendship. We bonded and shared fun stories.”
He knew better. He knew what was going to happen. He couldn’t not do it. He died. – Michael Drake
During the patient’s outpatient care, Drake would see him once every few months sitting happily by the bus stop. He said things were looking up; the patient was in a good relationship with a baby on the way.
At the end of Drake’s residency, he was on-call in the emergency room one night. As he walked in to begin his shift, the door swung open, and he saw the patient who he last saw smiling, lying on a gurney.
“He looked up at me and said ‘I didn’t make it,’” Drake said. “And then he was wheeled away and he died soon thereafter.
“He knew better. He knew what was going to happen. He couldn’t not do it. He died.”
After the incident, Drake said he learned the importance of working together to come up with answers to the most difficult problems, something OSU Extension works to do.
In its two mental health first aid programs — one catered to after-school groups for kids and the other for adults — basic mental health first aid knowledge is taught by staff trained in the practice.
Participants learn skills such as how to recognize when someone has a behavioral change due to distress that they could experience during drug addiction, said Ken Martin, OSU Extension’s associate director and chair of programs and departments.
Of the over 200 educators involved in OSU Extension, Martin said there are currently 70 educators trained in the first-aid training that can help those with drug addiction, such as opioid use.
Martin said in these instances the extension program can help its participants learn how to frame appropriate questions on the matter.
During the course, participants are also given the responsibility to come up with a community preparedness plan — something they can take back home with them and use to teach others, or use when in crisis.
“The community can be aware of the problem and be aware of how devastating it is and have some skill and knowledge to talk about it for community action and preparedness,” Martin said.
He said this preparedness plan can especially help those who may come back to their community after being away for drug rehabilitation because it teaches people how to be more aware and supportive of those affected by drug addiction.
“If they’ve got family friends or organization, it would be a good idea to have that entity be aware of the situation to be supportive and as helpful as they can,” Martin said. “To the extent that we can have a community action plan, those communities are going to be in a good position to address this problem head-on in an appropriate way.”
After completing the eight-hour course, participants receive a certificate of completion, showing their newfound knowledge on mental health first aid, along with the knowledge that may, in-turn, help them save a life.