Jared Warner said the Highland County Health Department is the “doctor for the community,” and the prognosis for the county is not promising, considering the opioid crisis and the associated ills that come with it.
The county health commissioner addressed the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition on Thursday at the North High Business Center, outlining the health department’s response to public health issues in the county, including the opiate epidemic.
Among other local health issues such as child fatality, obesity and inactivity, tobacco use and chronic disease, Warner said illegal substance abuse is one of the primary public health concerns in the county.
An estimated 51 percent of Highland County residents personally know someone who uses heroin, Warner said. Approximately 49 percent of residents personally know someone who abuses prescription medication. Warner said about 80 percent of people addicted to opiates began with prescription painkillers.
Warner said with overdose rates at record highs around the state, Highland County is “going to have a terrible year” next year.
Drug abuse contributes to other public health issues as well, Warner said, such as communicable diseases.
According to Warner, the Center for Disease Control has said Highland County is similar in makeup to Scott County, Ind., where intravenous drug abuse played a large part in an extreme outbreak of HIV.
According to Warner, that county went from one case of HIV every year to 210 cases in 2015, mostly due to shared needles among drug abusers. The incident prompted the CDC to assess similar counties at risk of the same problem, and Highland County was one of them.
“We are poised right now for the same kind of outbreak,” he said.
Scott County responded by implementing needle exchange programs as a way to contain the outbreak, a reminder that “we’re all doing things we never thought we’d do,” Warner said.
Warner also said drug abuse and increased sexual activity go hand in hand, contributing to a heightened presence of sexually transmitted diseases in areas where drug abuse is prevalent.
Since one of the health department’s primary responsibilities is addressing local public health issues, Warner said the department has been taking concrete steps to combat the opiate epidemic.
According to Warner, the health department has collaborated with several local entities to provide local law enforcement with Sharps disposal containers as a protective measure, has been instrumental in the distribution of Naloxone, an opiate blocker, to law enforcement and the general public, and has developed a drug resource list on their website, as well as several other initiatives.
Warner said collaboration is key in fighting the opiate epidemic.
“This doesn’t fit into any one agency’s bucket,” he said.
The Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition is a group of public health officials, treatment professionals, law enforcement and people of faith who meet monthly to exchange ideas and resources for preventing local drug abuse.
The group meets at the North High Business Center the fourth Thursday of every month at noon.
The next speaker will be Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.