READERS of Blade obituaries might notice a disturbing number of young names and faces on pages that should be reserved for those who have lived long, fruitful, and satisfying lives.
Often these obituaries note that the deceased "died suddenly" or "at home." They may offer no reason for the passing of someone whose life has been cut cruelly short. These young people are our neighbors, friends, and relatives.
Too often, their deaths represent the carnage of a growing heroin and opioid epidemic that takes more than 1,000 lives a year in Ohio. In northwest Ohio, heroin-related deaths are on pace nearly to double again this year. Fatal overdoses in the area more than doubled last year, to 80 from 31 in 2012. In the first half of this year, 72 heroin-related deaths were reported.
The official tally for 2014 will include Christopher Joseph Pio, 28, of Toledo. Mr. Pio’s obituary appeared in The Blade on Sept. 18, five days after he died of a heroin overdose. A landscaper, Mr. Pio was the son of Cheryl Lykowski. He was described as high-spirited and athletic, someone who could always make you smile.
But most of Mr. Pio’s life should have awaited him. What he could have become will remain a missing piece of a universal and eternal puzzle.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Pio’s mother visited Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp; County commissioners Carol Contrada, Pete Gerken, and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, and county administrator Laura Lloyd-Jenkins. She gave them a check for $650. The money came from memorial donations made to the Addiction Resource Unit of the Sheriff’s Office.
Toledo, Oregon, and Swanton police are contributing to the new unit, which steers addicts into treatment. In just two months, the unit has handled 136 overdose cases, including eight fatalities. Most of the victims were in their early 20s.
"I can’t imagine another mother or father going through what I’ve gone through," Ms. Lykowski said. "I don’t want another mother waking up knowing she will never see her son again."
By contributing to the Addiction Resource Unit and, most important, acting with courage to put a name and face to yet another victim of this insidious epidemic, Ms. Lykowski has ensured that her son’s death has meaning for us all.
In the coming weeks and months, obituary pages will continue to carry the names and faces of people who were robbed of the chance to fulfill their potential or live out their dreams.
In creating a new role for law enforcement, Sheriff Tharp has joined the battle against this public health emergency. Broader access to treatment will give more people who are struggling with addiction the chance to beat their disease before it kills them.
The fight to raise awareness, change policies, and expand treatment won’t be easy, short, or cheap. But the mother of Christopher Joseph Pio has reminded us why it matters.