First Responders Recognized for Lifesaving Care in Overdose Cases
Event participants (L-R): Mallory Meeker, Charlotte Gutridge, Angie Honaker, Chief Tom Synan, Charlie Thompson, Trish Perry, David Ruderman and Linda Mossholder
The Ohio State University at Newark and OhioCAN/Newark Homeless Outreach honored first responders with a luncheon on Feb. 26 featuring guest speaker Tom Synan, police chief of the village of Newtown and founder of the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition.
The trauma experienced by first responders in responding to the dramatic rise in overdoses and overdose deaths often goes unacknowledged, says Synan.
“First responders see the toll addiction can have on those struggling and those left behind. It is important we recognize their daily efforts to save lives, change the tide of addiction and be the link that brings a community together.”
Synan said he created the response coalition in 2014 after hearing of the death of a young man he had known for years — the third generation of drug deaths in a single Newtown family. He cautioned against giving up on individuals who had overdosed repeatedly. In his time as a police chief, he said he would often be asked, “Why did you revive them again?”
“It’s the only group that people say that about. Nobody says that about drunk drivers or suicidal people. What I tell them is that there’s a whole family around that person: a mother, a father, a sister, a brother attached to them. You can discount the one but not the other.”
The Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition provides a bridge from the work of first responders in saving lives to the continuing care needed to treat a chronic medical condition. “The Fire and EMS that respond can’t fix that condition, but they can be the link to the continuing care model,” he said. “It all starts with first responders.”
Addicts In Recovery Share Their Gratitude
At the event, individuals in recovery from addiction provided testimonials and thanked the Newark first responders who had saved their lives — sometimes many times.
Charlie Thompson, now a Delaware city resident, described struggling with addiction for years, repeatedly encountering one Newark police officer who would ask, “When are you going to get it together?”
Five years ago, Thompson passed out while using drugs with friends. They abandoned him by a dumpster. “When I woke up, the people I thought were my friends weren’t there. They’d dumped me in an alley. But strangers and the EMTs were there for me,” he said. One of the first people he saw after being revived was the officer who had been urging him for years to get clean.
It was the last time he used drugs. “I got my life back and can be productive now,” he said.
“I have my kids back and a house, not a tent in the woods, and it was because of those people who helped me.”
Mallory Meeker described overdosing in the parking lot of the bank where she worked in 2021 and being brought back by Narcan. “One of those Narcans Trish hands out saved my life,” she said, referring to Trish Perry’s efforts through Newark Homeless Outreach to provide Narcan to the community.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been Narcaned and sent to jail — and it saved my life,” Meeker said. Only because first responders were willing to provide that life-saving treatment is she here today, she said. She believes it was divine intervention. “God knew I wasn’t going to be quiet about how the city of Newark saved me,” she said.
“I’m proof a community can rally and save lives.”
Professor Leads Poetry Workshops for Offenders
The Ohio State University at Newark Associate Professor David Ruderman, PhD, described how he became involved in teaching poetry to participants in the Licking County Day Reporting Program. Since 2017, the program has provided an alternative to prison and jail for people who had low-level felony convictions.
Ruderman began teaching the class, he said, after one of his Ohio State Newark poetry students commented that the writing workshops were similar to recovery meetings in how they created a safe space for sharing. “I realized poetry can help people in recovery demonstrate that we’re all the same. The point is to have a safe space to share, not to be kick-ass poets,” he said.
One of his Day Reporting students introduced his poem with details from his biography — a brother and other family members lost to drug abuse or suicide. Another student’s poem expressed gratitude that first responders had decided she was “Narcan worthy” and brought her back to life.
In 2021, 106,699 overdose deaths were recorded nationally, resulting in an age-adjusted rate of 32.4 per 100,000 in the United States. In Ohio, 5,083 residents died of accidental drug overdoses in 2021, breaking the record of 5,017 overdose deaths in 2020. That 2020 record was an increase of 25% from the previous year.
About Newark Homeless Outreach
Newark Homeless Outreach is a project of OhioCAN in Licking County. According to OhioCAN Licking County leader Trish Perry, its mission is to embrace, educate and empower those whose lives have been impacted by substance use and/or homelessness. A group of dedicated and passionate volunteers meets every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at 10 Buena Vista Ave. in Newark to serve anyone who is hungry or in need of food or other items. Mostly community-funded and -supported, Newark Homeless Outreach serves 80-120 people each week with a hot meal, hygiene items, harm reduction supplies, medical supplies, clothing, take-away items and other donated items. OhioCAN invites community members to consider participating in its annual fundraiser, "Steps of Change: Walk a Mile in My Shoes," on May 20. More information can be found on the Newark Homeless Outreach Facebook page, by emailing Newark Homeless Outreach at email@example.com, or by calling Trish Perry at 740-405-5682.
OhioCAN (Change Addiction Now) is a nonprofit that advocates for harm reduction, a method of addressing substance abuse with compassion and pragmatism, rather than the tough love approach of some traditional methods. OhioCAN provides a broad range of activities to improve the health and well-being for families and their loved ones, including providing food, water and basic necessities to detox and overdose patients, the homeless, recovery homes and community correctional facilities; peer support for families and loved ones impacted by substance use; and overdose prevention activities, including Naloxone (a prescription drug to prevent overdose) and first aid training. They provide educational programs and seminars for schools and community events; kinship advocacy for grandparents and foster families; and homeless outreach providing food, community support and harm reduction supplies.
- Top right: Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan (middle) with two firefighters from the Newark Fire Department
- Bottom right: Ohio State Newark Associate Professor David Ruderman, PhD