CRAIN’S Cleveland Business // By Lydia Coutre // 11/26/17

In the months following the loss of his daughter to a drug overdose, Bill Ayars and his family began looking for a way to get involved in combating the opioid crisis.

The Bay Village resident knew firsthand how daunting the search for addiction resources could be. His family searched online and heard of facilities through word of mouth, but he wasn’t aware of any one place that collected all of the available resources.

“As you begin to do research, you get so overwhelmed with specific questions,” Ayars said. “And what we wanted to do is just create a starting point.”

In November 2016, he created the Emerald Jenny Foundation, named for his daughter, Jennifer Emerald Ayars, who died at 28 earlier that year.

The website was launched on her birthday, May 14, of this year. It offers a free, searchable database for rehabilitation and treatment facilities, health care providers, counselors and other organizations that serve people who are struggling with addiction.

The initial goal of a database covering Cuyahoga County soon expanded to include all of Northeast Ohio, and then, the entire state. As of November, the Emerald Jenny Foundation’s database includes nearly 1,200 resources throughout the state for families and their loved ones struggling with a substance use disorder.

“No one else there out there is doing this, which kind of surprised me,” said John Meyerhoffer, a board member for the foundation. “But when we talk to folks who are doing this, they’re like, ‘Oh my god. I cannot believe that somebody finally took this task on.’ ”

To create the database, the foundation’s researchers started with existing lists. And from there, they began calling every program. All of the resources listed on the website were called and interviewed once to begin and again to double check the information. The plan is to call back and update information every four to six months to maintain accuracy.

“We believe it’s the best available resource today,” Ayars said. “Each facility has been called at least twice. We go through our checklist with them. Instead of just grabbing websites and listing them, what we’re doing is creating something that begins and it goes back to our needs.”

The website also defines much of the terminology that those seeking help may come across. The need for this kind of information was “definitely” out there, Meyerhoffer said.

“One of the biggest problems is you as a family member are thrust into a situation that you know nothing about, with a bunch of vocabulary that you know nothing about,” he said. “And you’re forced to have to make decisions and find help very, very quickly, because quite literally the next dose could be the lethal dose.”

Ayars, who serves as founder and president of the foundation, has been supporting the lion’s share of the cost. The foundation is beginning to look at grants and accepts donations on its website. Before Jennifer died, Ayars wrote a book about a family trip to jet ski the Mississippi River. A portion of proceeds from the book, now updated with her death, also supports the foundation.

They’re looking to expand the information available on the site, such as adding in programs and resources for pregnant women and infants affected by the crisis.

Valeria Harper, CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County, said that other existing databases in the county are the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 2-1-1 service and a crisis hotline that covers the county, but she doesn’t know of anything as broad as the Emerald Jenny Foundation’s statewide database.

To have the information as organized and current as the foundation maintains it is “just amazing,” said Harper, who’s been working in the field for 35 years.

A growing number of family members who have lost loved ones are getting involved in combating the opioid crisis, Harper said.

“I believe that a lot of the families are doing the work so that the loss of their family member or close friend is not in vain.”