‘Problems and Solutions’ event Nov. 30 takes on the opioid crisis

Aimee Dunkle will be there to talk about when her son, who attended Saddleback College, died of a heroin overdose.

The father of Sublime singer Bradley Nowell will be there to talk about his son’s overdose death.

Nowell’s friend Todd Zalkins will be there to talk about clawing his way back from addiction.

And licensed therapist and co-founder of Pacific Solstice Treatment Center Evan Fewsmith will be there to talk about what he says is the failing merry-go-round of rehab in O.C. and how to find quality treatment.

If any of this sounds familiar, if any of it sounds urgent, then you should be there, too.

The event is “Problems and Solutions: A Community Event in Response to the Opioid and Addiction Epidemic in Orange County.” It is happening on Nov. 30 at the Laguna Hills Community Center and is free and open to all.

Billed as “an afternoon of free services, healing and hope,” the event will have drug and alcohol counselors on hand, as well as mental health professionals.

There will also be a viewing of the recently released documentary “The Long Way Back: The Story of Todd ‘Z-Man’ Zalkins.” Zalkins was Nowell’s friend and the last person to see him alive before he overdosed before a Sublime show in 1996. He later battled his way back to sobriety from a 17-year prescription drug addiction. He will be at the event to do a Q&A after the viewing.

Papa Jim Nowell, father of Brad, will be the guest speaker.

Stigmatizing drug addiction must stop if there is any hope of ending the epidemic, said Jill Boultinghouse, a marriage and family therapist and co-founder of Pacific Solstice, which is sponsoring the event along with Strength in Support, a nonprofit that provides mental health services for veterans.

“I have never met a heroin addict who started off as a junkie shooting up,” she said. “Oftentimes we think about addicts at the moment they are the most physically and psychologically addicted and our reaction is one of repulsion and disgust. The truth is, I’ve never spoken to the parent of an addict and not heard about the precious person he or she is and was prior to the addiction being completely out of control.”

Diane Goldstein will talk about how she thinks law enforcement is tackling this epidemic all wrong. A retired Redondo Beach police lieutenant who lives in Tustin, she is on the board of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit seeking to shift the opioid crisis from a law enforcement issue to a public health issue.

“We cannot arrest our way out of an opioid epidemic,” she said. “People suffering from a health issue shouldn’t be stigmatized. Our drug policy is a failure.”

Dunkle’s son, a 20-year-old film student at Saddleback College, walked out of his treatment facility in Costa Mesa in 2012, met up with some friends and, after 54 days of sobriety, overdosed on heroin.

In July 2015, Dunkle started a nonprofit called The Solace Foundation to get the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone into the hands of addicts, their families, sober living homes and pretty much anyone else who will listen to her.

Since then, she and her volunteers have handed out 5,500 naloxone kits, mostly near City Hall in Santa Ana. Every time someone returns for another kit, they are asked what happened to the last one they received and their answer is recorded. This is why Dunkle believes her kits are responsible for 1,340 overdose reversals in the last 21 months.

“They saved a friend or a sister or a mother or a father,” she said. “One of those reversals was me saving the life of another mother’s son.”

Dunkle was near City Hall one Saturday when someone ran up to tell her there was a young man on a bench who was non-responsive and only faintly breathing.

“He was literally sitting there dying,” she said. It took two doses to bring him back.

Dunkle will hand out kits at the event and do a training session. Other breakout sessions will include Introduction to Al-Anon and Introduction to AA/NA. Nonprofits with a variety of services relating to addiction will be on hand.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, an estimated 64,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2016. Or, as a recent New York Times story put it: “More Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016 than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War.”

Event organizer Fewsmith believes that rehabs are partly to blame for that staggering statistic and said he plans to deliver “a fire and brimstone speech” at the event.

“Problems and Solutions: A Community Event in Response to the Opioid and Addiction Epidemic in Orange County” will be held Nov. 30 from 3-8 p.m. at the Laguna Hills Community Center, 25555 Alicia Pkwy, Laguna Hills.

Lori Basheda is a contributor to Times Community News.