A specialized team of local law enforcement officers, paramedics, mental health treatment professionals, health department staff and people of faith will take its first steps toward directly impacting the opiate crisis in Highland County in January, organizers said Tuesday.
Heather Gibson, president of the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition and CEO of REACH for Tomorrow, a local nonprofit, told The Times-Gazette that funding has been secured to assemble the group, called a “Quick-Response Team” designed to follow up with overdose victims to encourage them to seek treatment, and a public forum will be held in January to introduce its members.
Kelly Firesheets of Interact for Health, a Cincinnati nonprofit, said a $275,000 grant is pending for the initiative, and is expected to be awarded at the beginning of the new year.
Gibson said the grant has a three-year term, and will be used to supplement a grant awarded to the Highland County Sheriff’s Office by the office of the Ohio Attorney General earlier this year for the same initiative.
Firesheets said the formation of the QRT is somewhat of a second phase to naloxone distribution programs Interact for Health has sponsored.
Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a drug that reverses the effects of opiate overdose, and its free distribution to the public by the Highland County Health Department has become a controversial topic in recent months.
As of October, more than 140 kits provided by Interact for Health had been distributed for free to those who attended training events.
Some officials and community members have said giving naloxone away for free encourages drug abuse since it lessens the risk of dying from an overdose.
Others, like county Health Commissioner Jared Warner, have said any measure to prevent fatalities is worth the cost.
Firesheets told The Times-Gazette that Narcan distribution itself actually does little to solve the overall drug problem, since many who overdose and are treated with Narcan tend to go right back to using opiates because of their addiction.
Firesheets said the goal of the QRT is to follow up with those who have survived overdoses and convince them to seek treatment options, adding that it’s “fair to say we haven’t been doing a good job of that.”
Creed Culbreath, a part-time investigator with the Highland County Coroner’s Office, has already been making house calls with people who have overdosed, and will serve as the QRT’s hospital liaison in local health centers.
Gibson said the QRT’s introductory event will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2018 at Southern State Community College in Hillsboro.
QRT members, who have yet to be selected, will field questions from the public, and drug coalition members will give an overview of the coalition’s Community Plan.
The plan, rolled out in August, highlights five specific areas on which resources should be focused, including harm reduction, supply reduction, drug abuse prevention, treatment and advocacy.
The Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition is a group of concerned citizens and officials who meet monthly to exchange ideas and resources for preventing local drug abuse.
The group meets every fourth Thursday of the month at noon in the main conference room at the North High Business Center. Due to the upcoming holiday season, the group’s next meeting will be held Thursday, Dec. 7.
The coalition can be found on Facebook by searching “Highland County Drug Abuse Coalition.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.