On November 16, 2015, the largest gathering of Guernsey County community leaders was convened to address the opioid epidemic occurring in our county, our state and our nation. Ray Chorey, (now retired) President & CEO of SEORMC, facilitated this event and organized a panel of community experts from an array of professions to share their insights, efforts, and recommendations for addressing this plague on our community. Representatives from various social service agencies, our faith communities, schools, area law enforcement, the judicial system, local government, area businesses, etc. were in attendance. This large scale community meeting was prompted after a massive response from citizens who attended a community meeting initiated by the Guernsey County Farm Bureau at the Cambridge Municipal Courthouse. Many of these same representatives and concerned continued to meet to develop a vision statement for what is now known as “C.H.O.I.C.E.S”.

C.H.O.I.C.E.S. in an acronym for Community — Hope — Opportunity — Independence — Change —Empowerment — Success. Since our inception as an anti-drug coalition, several of our members and/or their agencies/programs have gone on to do great things for our community with self-less determination and perseverance despite the obstacles we face in southeastern Ohio. In 2016, we engaged students from Mid-East Buffalo Campus to design our CHOICES logo which is still used to this day and designed by Jacqueline Smith. The Guernsey Youth Leadership met the challenge to develop a PSA which they called “A Matter of Life or Death”. The Daily Jeffersonian published multiple articles to increase understanding of addiction and the impact on those struggling with addiction, the families and loved ones of those battling with addiction as well as the success stories of those in recovery. “Dreamland” author, Sam Quinones, met with CHOICES and provided a community presentation attended by concerned citizens from multiple counties. Members of the Cambridge Area Chamber of Commerce led the distribution of anti-drug community posters for area businesses. Our area schools provided drug awareness programs to students, parents and faculty with special guests, Andrea Boxill, Deputy Director of the Governor’s Opiate Action Team, as well as nationally known, “Rapping Dad” Derek Clark from California. The Guernsey County Health Department led the charge in the distribution of the life-saving Project: D.A.W.N. Kits to area law enforcement, social service agencies and family members living with someone with an opioid addiction who may unintentionally overdose. The Guernsey County Court of Common Pleas continued its successful implementation of “intervention in lieu of conviction” through its C.A.R.E. (Court Assisted Recovery & Education) Program. Alcohol & Drug Services of Guernsey County (now known as Guernsey Health Choices) in collaboration with the Guernsey Sheriff’s Office and others continue to enlighten parents, teachers and home health providers with the “Be Aware” mobile trailer which provides visual examples of potential drug abuse paraphernalia which may not be obvious to the naïve observer. Southeastern Medical Center utilized the “Parents 360Rx: Start Talking” educational program to encourage over 400 adults — hospital associates, parents and guardians — to start the discussion about prescription drug abuse prevention with youth.

In 2017 we saw additional movement on the front of this epidemic battleground. The Guernsey County Community Development Corporation donated a house to Alcohol & Drug Services of Guernsey County to be used by women in recovery for a “sober living” environment. The Mental Health & Recovery Services Board collaborated with the Guernsey County Health Department to provide a case manager for pregnant women with addiction issues. A “HOPE Support Group” was developed and facilitated by one of our local youth and counselors at Cambridge City Schools for students impacted by their parent(s) addiction. Drug “Take Back” locations were designated at Riesbeck’s and Dollar General for residents to safely dispose of unused medications. Medication Disposal Bags which “de-activate” prescription pain pills and allow them to be safely disposed of in trash were obtained by the Guernsey County Farm Bureau and provided to various social service agencies. C.H.O.I.C.E.S. assisted with the purchase of a virtual driving simulator for the Cambridge Police Department and Guernsey Sheriff’s Office to educate area students on the dangers and consequences of distracted &/or impaired driving. The Chamber of Commerce with the assistance of the MI-IRS Board launched a “Drug Free Workplace” initiative to identify policies to assist employees with their rehabilitation and recovery.

During the summer of 2018, C.H.O.I.C.E.S. and members of the community made donations to the Salvation Army’s Summer Lunch Program to purchase lunch bags with various age appropriate slogans to deter youth from using drugs. Approximately 17,500 lunch bags were provided to our area youth that summer and the positive feedback was gratifying. One step to solving further drug addiction in our communities is to educate our youth and their families. Also in 2018 Allwell Behavioral Health Services joined forces with the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office and Guernsey Behavioral Health Choices to address the needs of individuals and their families who have survived a drug overdose.

Although the C.H.O.I.C.E.S community anti-drug coalition has not been prominent in the media thus far in 2019, they have continued to press forward by pursuing and have now obtained their 501(3)(c) status.