Ohio’s devastating opioid epidemic has killed more than 10,000 people over the last three years, touching thousands of families throughout Southwest Ohio’s Miami Valley, straining court and foster-care systems and leaving many addicts’ loved ones searching for answers.
But numbers alone don’t begin to tell the story of the epidemic’s longterm impact on the Dayton community, once considered the overdose capital of the nation, with hundreds of overdose deaths in 2017.
As part of an effort to better understand what’s happening with drug addiction and recovery in the Dayton region, WYSO launched the Recovery Stories project. The project includes six audio stories that aired in 2018 on 91.3 WYSO Public Radio and distributed to other NPR member stations across Appalachia.
In early 2018, WYSO participated in a series of community forums organized in conjunction with the statewide collaborative Your Voice Ohio initiative. The forums were designed to brainstorm with Ohioans in diverse communities across the state about solutions to the opioid crisis.
More than 500 residents, most of them personally affected by opioid addiction, participated in the forums.
Each person wrote down questions they wanted journalists to investigate. And, working together, reporters at Your Voice Ohio partner news outlets, including WYSO, then researched and answered those questions, delivering their findings back to the community.
At the forums organizers asked participants to answer three main questions in their own words:
- What does the opioid epidemic look like in our community?
- What do we see as causes of the epidemic in our community?
- What steps might we take to combat the opioid epidemic?
Their answers revealed a number of major themes.
Many at the Dayton-area meetings were people struggling with a loved one’s active opioid addiction. Many spoke of their desperation to find help for their loved one, and of feeling abandoned by government officials and journalists.
People also expressed resilience in the face of trauma. Many wanted a way for families affected by opioids to share with each other the tools, resources and information they had gathered in the process of accessing drug treatment and recovery.
People wanted to share stories.
“They wanted to share their stories in hopes of helping other people struggling with addiction, and to break the stigma that often shrouds drug addiction in silence,” says WYSO Producer and Managing Editor Jess Mador.
In response to this need in the community, the Recovery Stories project was born.
Breaking The Silence
It was critical that Recovery Stories include a diverse range of perspectives from people living in different parts of the Dayton region. So, WYSO partnered with Montgomery County court and addiction programs, and the Dayton grassroots nonprofit organization FOA Families of Addicts.
We quickly identified 12 brave storytellers.
They came from all walks of life across the Miami Valley –– they were rural and urban, young and old, blue collar and white collar, military veterans and recovering addicts.
The group united around a passionate desire to come out of the shadows and share their deeply personal, often painful and difficult experiences with the opioid epidemic.
Two Days Of Recording
Storytellers would record unscripted, non-narrated StoryCorps-style interviews with a loved one of their choice in pairs of two.
Many in the group had never before spoken publicly about their, or their family’s, struggles with addiction. And most had never recorded an audio interview before.
To help them prepare, WYSO’s Jess Mador, Jocelyn Robinson and Neenah Ellis led participants through an interview-skills workshop.
They worked together to outline the topics they wanted to cover during their interviews. Each came up with a list of questions to ask their interview partner.
The resulting non-narrated audio stories are intimate, emotional and sometimes harrowing, says WYSO General Manager Neenah Ellis.
“The aftershocks of the opioid crisis in our community will resonate for years within families. WYSO presents these stories to foster a deeper understanding of what they’re going through,” she says.
Gathering Community Voices
The Recovery Stories audio series broadcast on the WYSO airwaves in the fall of 2018.
The series launched with a special live community celebration featuring the project participants, their families and friends, and Dayton health and addiction advocates. Read more about the live event.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2018, public radio station WYSO 91.3 is licensed to Antioch College with studios in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It broadcasts on multiple platforms: 91.3 FM, livestreaming at WYSO.org, on HD radio and on NPR One, a mobile application. WYSO is the Miami Valley’s only NPR News station, offering programming from NPR, Public Radio International, American Public Media, PRX and the BBC, as well as the work of local and independent radio producers.
More about WYSO.
More About WYSO’s Recovery Stories
This story is part of WYSO’s Recovery Stories series.
The series was produced by Jess Mador, with assistance from WYSO Community Voices producer Jocelyn Robinson. Original photos by Maddie McGarvey.
Additional project digital support from 100 Days in Appalachia.