County takes team approach in tackling drug problem

By Alberta Stojkovic - The Sentinel

The County Coroner, Sheriff, Prosecutor, EMS and Health District officials met with Commissioners in the past few weeks and along with budget reports, shared concerns about keeping drugs out of Morrow County. One important realization is the need for all officials to share information.

EMS runs for overdose in the last six months of 2016 totaled 13, in the first five months of 2016 there were more than 20 runs for overdose. Health Department Director of Nursing, Kay Benick brought statistics to Commissioners on deaths due to overdose in Morrow County and surrounding counties. As Commissioners looked at the numbers, they grew concerned about the continuing increase in deaths by drug overdose.

From 2015 to 2016 total deaths by overdose in Morrow County rose from 7 to 11. Official numbers for 2017 to date are not confirmed, but it appears that there is an increase in deaths this year again.

In both 2015 and 2016 there were three deaths from prescription and other opiates. Two deaths in 2015 were due to heroin and three deaths in 2016 due to heroin in Morrow County. No deaths in 2015 were from Fentanyl, but two from Fentanyl in 2016. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid many times the strength of heroin. There was one death each in 2016 for Cocaine, Alcohol and Hallucinogens in the county.

Surrounding counties in 2016 reported deaths from overdose totals of: Crawford 13, Delaware 23, Knox 13, Marion 44 and Richland 122.The highest number of deaths was from opiates, followed by heroin and Fentanyl overdose.

Benick is concerned for the continuation of Project Dawn, the community based education and distribution program for Naloxone kits. Naloxone is the drug that can counteract or reverse the effects of drug overdoses and save lives.

The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) gave the initial funding for the Naloxone program of $24,000 in 2016. The Health dept. distributed around 75 Naloxone kits and trained law enforcement officers, schools and families in their use. They have also partnered with Maryhaven to do training. The challenge, Benick said, is to get the information out on the usage of Naloxone.

Benick said the funding for this Naloxone program will run out June 30 this year. The kits will be expiring in November 2017. The ODH will now primarily fund only new programs starting up, so Morrow County will need to look for support for the program locally.

There are now new forms of the Naloxone that are less expensive. The Health Dept. is now considering use of a nasal spray that is less expensive and it is twice the strength of the injections. The Health Dept. is also looking into partnering with other counties such as Union, Delaware, Knox and Holmes to save costs.

Commissioner Tom Whiston agreed with Benick that this is a cost effective program when lives can be saved with Naloxone and individuals can get a second chance at life. He asked about the possibility of extending the expiration since the kits would have very little loss in use after their November expiration date.

It was discussed that one high risk group for overdose are people leaving jail. They are especially vulnerable if they begin using drugs at the rate of use before their time in jail.

Benick said there is a need to track the number of deaths who are residents of the county and where they live. Some overdose deaths are due to people dying here who live in locations outside the county.

Whiston said he will take the questions on numbers of deaths by overdose and lives saved by Naloxone to both the Coroner, Dr. Hintz and to law enforcement.

“We need to continue with zero tolerance for drugs from law enforcement in the county,” Whiston added. “We want the numbers of death and the potential to get drugs to go down here.”

By Alberta Stojkovic

The Sentinel

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