During the nearly 70 years that she’s lived on the South Side, Donna Bates has never seen anything like the toll heroin and opiates is taking on her neighborhood.
“It’s just so bad, we want to do something and we have to do something,” Bates said.
For several hours on Saturday, Bates and nearly two dozen volunteers gathered inside the Reeb Avenue Center, 280 Reeb Ave., to raise awareness that there is help for those addicted to drugs.
It was also a step Bates was taking to reclaim her neighborhood.
>> Dispatch series: Heroin’s hold on us
The event, in its third year, is part of nationwide awareness campaign this week called Red Ribbon Week that is meant to prevent drug use by lending an ear and helping hand to those battling addiction and for their families trying to cope.
The event was sponsored by the The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. Resources and help were available to anyone there Saturday.
About 50 people, half of them children, showed up at the center before an awareness walk to the Barack Recreation Center at 580 E. Woodrow Ave. about a half-mile away.
Heroin and opiate use has become a scourge across the country as easy access and the low cost of the drug, combined with its potency, have made it the top choice of users.
Recently the city dealt with a spike of 48 overdoses in 48 hours because of heroin mixed with a strong opiate. The spike exhausted public safety resources in parts of the city including Linden and the South Side.
City officials have implored those battling addiction to immediately seek help and if they use, do so with someone present.
The South Side Substance Abuse Solutions Committee hosted the event. The committee, which Bates is a part of, formed nearly three years ago to address some of the problems hindering South Side revitalization efforts. The main focus has been addressing unemployment and drug use.
Bates said the group formed from the Southern Gateway Initiative — a government and business investment plan to help the area — where leaders heard an outcry from South Siders who wanted change and were tired of the same neighborhood problems.
The group has been working with the House of Hope and Amethyst, area agencies that provide drug and alcohol treatment and residential programs.
Bates, secretary of the Reeb-Hosack/Steelton Village Committee, said she and others have been working with police and community leaders to address the problem on the South Side where the unemployment rate reaches into the high teens and rental units continue to pop up.
“I think it comes down to a lack of jobs,” Bates said. “People need those opportunities.”
Caitlyn Robinson, 15, of Pickerington, volunteered at the event as part of her youth outreach group. She said staying drug-free is something her friends talk about often.
“I am a part of a youth-to-youth group and meet every week and we discuss these types of issues,” Robinson said.
Bates said more young people need to speak out and be part of the change. She said that’s why the event Saturday featured music, face painting and balloons to try to attract younger people.
Anyone seeking help for drug addiction is urged to call 614-276-2273 or visit the website https://www.columbus.gov/opiatecrisis/