A woman with sores on her face. A body lying on a gurney with a tag on a toe. A mouth with rotting teeth and gums.
These are among the graphic images that will be used in an anti-drug campaign in Akron that is aimed at stopping people from using heroin and methamphetamines. The campaign will include 25 billboards across the city, yard signs, water bill inserts, newspaper ads, public service announcements on the radio, and posters on the sides of trash trucks, inside buses and in schools, in the next four months.
“If it’s our children or our relative, we want them to see this picture,” Mayor Don Plusquellic said Friday at a news conference to kickoff the campaign, pointing to one of the grisly images that will be featured in the effort. “We want to prevent it rather than waiting and cleaning up afterward.”
The campaign is a joint effort of several different agencies, including Akron, Summit County, the Alcohol Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board of Summit County, and Summit County Juvenile Court. Several companies are donating space or air time for the effort, including Clear Channel Outdoor, which is supplying static and digital billboards, the Akron Beacon Journal, WAKR, WNIR and 93.1 The Summit.
Akron Council President Garry Moneypenny said the campaign is the culmination of a collaboration that began after the February 2012 death of 17-month-old Patrick Nicholas Lerch at a house in which meth was being made. The council passed legislation in April 2012 that required property owners to pay for the law enforcement cost of cleaning up a meth lab and adopted another ordinance that allocated $10,000 of the cleanup costs to pay for an education campaign.
The campaign that began Friday includes these funds and another $10,000 chipped in by other agencies. The effort will be rolled out over time, with different methods for reaching people tried each month through September, Moneypenny said.
“This will be an ongoing battle,” he said. “It’s not just a one-shot deal.”
James Nice, who has been Akron’s police chief for three years, said meth was the biggest problem drug when he first started, with the department finding one meth house per day. As the department was still dealing with meth, he said heroin emerged in the area as another deadly threat.
“We didn’t see it coming,” he said. “It went from nonexistent to an epidemic.”
Nice said the police need the help from other agencies to try to not just bust the dealers but also help the addicts. He said he has seen people die of heroin overdoses in the backs of ambulances 15 times.
Jerry Craig, executive director of the ADM board, agreed that too many people are losing family members to drugs, with meth and heroin deaths both increasing.
“These are normal people in the grips of addition,” he said. “It takes an entire community to rescue them.”
Craig said he would like to see the campaign in Akron replicated elsewhere in Summit County.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.