The Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition is seeking public input for updating the Highland County Community Plan for Drug Abuse Prevention, a comprehensive plan aimed at organizing community-wide efforts to reduce local drug abuse by focusing on harm reduction, treatment strategies and advocacy efforts.
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner, who serves as chairman of the coalition’s harm reduction committee, said the plan unites different agencies to attack local drug abuse from a variety of angles.
“It’s no secret that all of southwest Ohio has a drug problem,” Warner said. “The great thing about the drug coalition is we’ve got so many community partners who are working with us to see what we can do to fix it. It’s that kind of problem that just hits everyone, everywhere… The written plan is really an attempt for all of us to take a look at this from all the perspectives of all the different agencies. We’re figuring out what issues we need to work on for treatment, prevention, supply reduction, all the different pieces. That’s the idea behind it.”
Heather Gibson, president of the coalition, said the plan was initially developed last summer with public input.
Gibson said many counties have developed similar plans, but Highland County’s version sets itself apart by heavily promoting advocacy.
“The reason we wanted to do that was we felt it’s really important that we have a mechanism that’s able to advocate for all those other components,” Gibson said. “We hoped the faith-based organizations could find a home there. They’re not experts in harm reduction, and they’re not law enforcement, but they can advocate for families who are suffering from addiction, they can advocate for prevention and stuff like that.”
Gibson said another key component of the plan is harm reduction. Warner has been a driving force on that subject.
“We’re being pushed to do things that are controversial, things that are difficult, and things that make some of us uncomfortable, but what we’re doing now isn’t working,” Warner said, referencing harm reduction measures such as Narcan distribution and needle exchanges.
Gibson said several members of the coalition were surprised last year when members of the public suggested needle exchange efforts be included in the plan, since the topic often proves to be controversial and often unpopular in the area.
Free Narcan distribution, which has also been a point of contention in public discussion, was also added to the plan, and has since come to fruition. Training events continue around the county for those interested in obtaining Narcan at no cost.
“We’ve actually seen some success in implementing some of the things we’ve talked about,” Warner said. “We’ve done quite a bit of stuff for public education, we’ve started the Narcan program, we’ve coordinated big community events… now, we’re taking a step back and figuring out what’s working, what’s not working, kind of assessing where we are and what the next things are that we need to try.”
Revisions to the plan will be the main topic of discussion at the next coalition meeting, set to be held Thursday, July 27 at the North High Business Center at noon.
“All the committees are looking for members,” Gibson said. “We want the public to be involved in this. The committees themselves often meet outside of business hours… There’s a way to be involved. You just have to ask.”
Warner also said public input is vital to the success of the plan.
“I wish there was an easy solution for it, but it’s not going to be easy,” Warner said. “It’s going to take time. Really, when we get down to it, the solution isn’t going to come from the health department or the sheriff’s office – it’s going to be a community effort. We still need help. If people get involved, that’s a good thing.”
More information on the plan can be obtained by emailing Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by visiting the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition’s Facebook page.
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.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.