At-risk teens of drug-addicted parents could receive helping hand from 'Ohio Corps'

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Opioids continue to break apart families here in Northeast Ohio, and children of addicts are caught in the middle.

But now those at-risk teens may have a chance to get ahead in life thanks to a new state bill.

Ohio Corps is a mentoring program for students at least 13 years old who are dealing with a family member addicted to opioids.

State lawmakers and higher education leaders gathered at the state capitol in Columbus on Thursday to introduce the Ohio Corps program.

About a dozen students who could qualify for the program joined them.

It's hard enough to be a teenager, but some kids are forced to grow up too fast.

"When I was younger I would see my dad shoot up with a needle, with heroin whatever. And I would be scared to go to doctor visits because I was scared of needles. I didn't want them in me because I didn't want to act like my dad," said Payzlee McDaniel, a student from Pike County.

Ohio Corps would focus on college prep, career planning and drug education for teens like Payzlee McDaniel.

It would pair up college students with high school students, and require teens in the program to volunteer 40 hours of community service.

Todd Panigutti of Parma likes the idea. He's the father of twin 13-year-old boys, and he has struggled with addiction himself.

"I was a good guy, I didn't write in a sandbox that I wanted to be a heroin addict and alcoholic. I had ambition and goals," he said.

But two Vicodin pills he took for pain changed everything. And he hit rock bottom fast.

"I gave everything away, my house, my family, my job, my retirement," Panigutti said.

He went to the Lantern Center for Recovery in Cleveland to get help.

And he's been clean for seven years now.

Luckily, his boys were much younger during the tough times.

"I'm grateful that if I stay sober, they'll never see me drunk or high ever. And that's how I'm going to keep it," Panigutti said.

His sons are back in his life and he's making up for lost time.

"I think they're happy. I'm trying to do the best I can with them, I'm still learning how to be a dad," he said.

Panigutti knows having someone around who cares can make the difference in a teen's life, especially when they have a parent struggling with addiction.

"It will help those kids have a mentor, and someone to help them through the tough times and someone they can talk to while their dad and mom's getting healthy. I think it will be great to have that mentor to help them out," he said.

A pilot program could kick off right here in Northeast Ohio and would also be tested out in Southeast Ohio.

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