By now, it’s no secret that drugs have hit Scioto County like a bomb.
Opioids, fentanyl, heroin — you name it, it’s present.
However, an individual with a special talent, despite his busy schedule, stayed in Portsmouth for an extra day just to mentor teens about the dangers that are present in the deadly drugs that have greatly affected the city, Scioto County, and all of Southern Ohio.
After visiting Portsmouth’s Cornerstone United Methodist Church on Sunday evening, Darryl Strawberry ventured right across the street to Portsmouth Junior-Senior High School on Monday morning to talk to students about the dangers of drug addiction.
For Strawberry, it’s an absolute necessity to talk about its dangers — because according to what the former MLB All-Star has seen, the drug epidemic is worse now than ever.
“The drugs that are out here in America today, it’s unreal,” Strawberry said. “Kids are dying out here today. We need to speak about them and tell kids, ‘Don’t do drugs, don’t try marijuana, don’t try alcohol, and don’t try prescription pills because they’re deadly. That’s the hope that I have for these young people. So many of them don’t feel worthy of life, and so many of them are going down the wrong road. It’s costing them their life, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
And the scary thing is that Strawberry’s statement rings true in many scenarios.
Take the opioid epidemic, for example.
According to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, 8.5 percent of Scioto County’s clients in treatment programs were diagnosed with an opioid-related drug problem — a high number even during that time and a mark that was eighth in the state during the year. Scioto County was one of only eight counties in the state to have more than 6.8 percent of its clients affected by opioids.
However, by the end of the decade, that number had grown to proportions that were out of control.
In 2009, 69 counties in Ohio — including Scioto County — held rates above 6.8 percent. During that same timespan, Scioto County’s rate rose from 8.5 percent to an astronomical 64.1 percent — by far the most of any county in the state. Unfortunately, the death rate grew with the expansion of opioids in the county, as Scioto County was one of 16 counties in the state to hold a death rate at or above 17 citizens per 100,000 people.
While opioids have leveled off, a fentanyl epidemic has exploded over the last five years, according to the Ohio Department of Health. From 2012 to 2015, the rate of deaths in Ohio due to overdoses on fentanyl grew from 75 individuals to 1,155.
The combination of opioids, along with fentanyl, have equaled more deaths in youth. Ohio was one of five states, according to a 2015 article by USA Today, that saw its youth drug overdose quadruple over a period of a decade.
If anybody understands the struggle that Scioto County natives have had in fighting the struggle to stay away from dangerous drugs and painkillers, it is the eight-time All-Star and four-time World Series Champion.
Strawberry was once arrested in Tampa, Fla. in 2000 after blacking out, rear-ending a vehicle, and attempting to drive away after he tried to see his probation officer after taking painkillers. It was one of his many struggles in a series of legal troubles that hung over the 6-6, 190-pounder like a cloud before the man who accumulated 335 home runs and 1,000 RBI got clean for good.
“I can share the dangers of doing them,” Strawberry said. “There’s a dangerous part of doing drugs that young people don’t know. It’s not like it used to be back in our days. Drugs have always been bad for you, but even more now, to the point that we are seeing what is happening to the generation of young people. We’re losing people at such a young age now to the point where they haven’t even lived! There’s 19, 20-year olds in the grave somewhere due to drug addiction. We’ve got to stop it. America has to stop it. Politicians need to get God back into the schools, help these kids, and educate them on real things. We’re fussing about other stuff when we need to be thinking about the younger generation of kids.”
While Strawberry, who hit at least 26 home runs and drove in at least 74 RBI over the first nine seasons of his MLB career, had his career — and nearly his life — cut short due to drug addiction among other demons, it’s clear that he’s talking the talk and walking the walk as far as his newfound path is concerned.
And more than anything, he just wants the youth at Portsmouth Junior and Senior High School to understand his journey so that they do not make the same mistakes that he made as an adult.
“I hope that they realized the fact that drugs not only affected what I was great at doing but how I became addicted to the point where I nearly died,” Strawberry said. “Hopefully, they realize the dangers of drugs through the experiences that I shared on Monday, and just stay away from drugs altogether.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7