Last month, during a book event in my hometown of Middletown, a woman came up to me and asked me sign a book to her grandchildren, with an inscription that honored their mother. Their mother–this woman’s daughter–had died of a heroin overdose weeks earlier. And now she’s raising her grandchildren. Ever since I met that woman, I’ve thought constantly of her and her family–the obstacles those little kids have already faced, a young mother destroyed by addiction, and of course that grandmother persevering through grief and heartache to be there for those kids.
Anyone who’s read my book will appreciate the similarities between that woman’s story and my own. I too was saved from chaos and instability by my grandparents–chaos brought on in large measure because of addiction. Perhaps that’s why I can’t stop thinking about it. But anyone who’s lived in Ohio in recent years knows that stories like hers are too common
I founded this organization in the hopes that I could make these problems a little less common. It’s a new chapter for me: I worked for a nonprofit in college, but I’ve spent most of my professional life in the Marine Corps and the private sector. But I felt compelled to give it a try. When you have a book that takes off unexpectedly like mine did, you find yourself in rooms of people, and they all want to know: what do we do now? How do we help? And the honest answer is that I don’t know. But I aim to find out.
It’s amazing how much we’ve already learned in just a few short weeks. We know that one of the biggest consequences of the addiction epidemic is families–grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings–who’ve been forced to step up for neglected and orphaned children. Importantly, many of those families are plunged into poverty or financial distress because they didn’t plan to have an extra mouth to feed. We’ve learned that there are as many approaches to prevention as there are blades of grass, and that some of those approaches work surprisingly better than others. We’ve learned that the jobs crisis in our state is inextricably linked to the drug crisis: many people turn to drugs when they can’t find jobs, and many employers can’t hire people once they’ve turned to drugs.
Because of what we’ve learned, we plan to focus on a few broad topics. First is the opioid epidemic, which is now arguably the worst public health crisis in our state. Second is employment, particularly how we connect job seekers with the right employers and how we educate and train our kids to enter the workforce. And third is family stability. Of course, none of these exist in a vacuum: unemployment and addiction put stresses on our families, and family instability in turn influences the other two factors.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be busy. We’ll announce an advisory board of leading thinkers, policy experts, and community leaders. We hope to commission a study to better understand the way the opioid crisis stresses extended family networks. And we’ll identify a couple of policies that, if enacted, will help.
Things will undoubtedly change as we learn more, but I hope you’ll sign up for our mailing list and keep in contact with everything OOR is doing. The goal is to build a long-term organization that does a lot of good, and we’ve just taken the first step.