Reba McCray stood before a crowd of almost 250 people Wednesday and boldly told her story of painkiller and heroin addiction.

“My name is Reba and I’m a recovery coach. What that means is I’m also in recovery,” she said. “I was an opiate addict most of my life.”

McCray — who now helps addicts through recovery at Oriana House — was among a panel of speakers at an informational discussion held from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Summit County Public Health.

McCray said she’s gone from struggling through a $100-a-day heroin habit to trying to inspire hope in today’s addicts. It wasn’t an easy path, she said, but she’s one of the success stories.

“I learned to live my life free from drugs and alcohol, and I’ve never looked back,” she said, followed by a round of applause from those in attendance.

The informational meeting, held by representatives of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, was one of many across the state. DeWine did not attend.

Other speakers included Barberton police chief Vincent Morber; Dr. Marguerite Erme with Summit County Public Health; Dr. Doug Smith and Jerry Craig with the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Service Board; and Jennifer Biddinger with the attorney general’s office.

The meeting focused mostly on awareness of addiction to prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl — collectively referred to as opiates. Speakers said most of today’s heroin addicts began their opiate addictions using painkillers, then switched to heroin and fentanyl, which is even stronger than heroin, after running out. Heroin is often cheaper on the street than painkillers, they said.

A spike in the number of deaths attributed to opiates in recent years has led to an all-encompassing effort to counter addiction. Morber said police are more often targeting drug dealers than drug users, and doctors said there’s been considerable effort to educate the public that addiction is a disease and not a choice.

The struggle in convincing the public is complicated by the fact that addicts have an extremely high relapse rate. Some studies report it’s as high as 90 percent if the addict is not using medication to help them through recovery.

“I want to use the analogy to dieting,” Smith said. “I would venture a guess that almost everyone in this audience, myself included, at some point tried to diet. That’s the American way.

“But how many people have truly been successful? Not very many people, and the reason for that is your brain is screaming at you, ‘Feed me, feed me, feed me!’ and eventually you give in.”

Audience members said they thought the discussion was informative.

“I thought it was very educational,” said Mary Kotnik, president of the Nordonia High School Parent-Teacher-Student Association. “We’re trying to do more awareness programs, so this was a great resource.”

Kotnik attended the event with Tammy Strong, president of the school board.

“I learned a lot,” Strong said. “I was especially surprised by the idea of dealers starting to target suburban neighborhoods and areas instead of bigger cities because that’s where they’re going to make the most money.

“That never really occurred to me, but it makes sense.”

Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or nglunt@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ.