Cleveland barber shop joins fight to save lives, get addicts in recovery with test strips

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- In May alone 37 people died in overdoses related to fentanyl in Cuyahoga County. The majority of those were fentanyl mixed with cocaine. Law enforcement and advocates say until recently, fentanyl was usually found only in heroin.

That startling statistic is what has prompted an expansion of the county’s current fentanyl test strip program.

“In order to get a person in recovery first we need to save their life,” said Scot Osiecki, CEO of the Alcohol Drug Addiction Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County.

The ADAMHS board is working on a new grassroots program to get fentanyl test strips into the hands of the people who really need them, whether they are in a bar, restaurant or barber shop.

That’s where Waverly Willis, owner of Urban Kutz Barber Shop and head of the Urban Barber Association, comes in.

“It’s unfortunate that we need this program but it is what it is so it’s good that we can take the lead and try and do something about it,” Willis said.

Willis has agreed to have test strips accessible for anyone who comes into his barber shop. He’s also getting several other barbers in Cleveland to do the same.

“I’m in recovery for about 14 years now and I see a lot of my friends walking past both of my barber shops that I used to get high with that I used to be in abandoned buildings hanging out with,” Willis said. “More on a tragic note, tragically dying from crack and heroin overdoses and a lot of it is specifically from the fentanyl that’s within the drugs."

“What’s really concerning is we’re seeing fentanyl appear in illicit drugs where it previously had not been seen,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Justin Herdman.

Fentanyl is showing up in more and more deadly cocaine overdoses and experts say historically, cocaine users have not expected fentanyl and have no tolerance for opioids so the smallest amount of fentanyl will kill them.

“We don’t condone any drug activity but we want people to make informed decisions,” said Osiecki.

Herdman also made it clear the Department of Justice does not condone the use of illegal drugs, but he believes getting fentanyl test strips into the community is part of the overall strategy to fight the drug problem.

“People who are dealing drugs, people who are profiting off selling that poison we always try to identify them and lock them up,” Herdman said.

He also says he supports the work to stop the demand for drugs, which means reaching out to users and addicts.

“We have to be very responsive to that community and make sure that we are trying as many times as we can to get in front of them and get them information about treatment and recovery and put them on the path towards recovery and that includes outreach items like fentanyl test strips,” Herdman said.

The ADAMHS Board is still looking for businesses and organizations to be a part of the test strip initiative. Anyone interested should visit www.testyourdrugscc.com and can contact Madison Scagnetti, External Affairs Officer with the ADAMHS Board at scagnetti@adamshcc.org, 216-241-3400 ext 861.

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