As Ohio officials face budget cuts, the state is experiencing a surge in opioid use, Carol Baden, RecoveryOhio Community health adviser for Governor Mike DeWine, said during the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition’s virtual meeting on Thursday.
The communications programs that RecoveryOhio, a team that collaborates at the local level to create a system to help those affected by Ohio’s mental health and addiction crisis, had planned for this year were hit the hardest, Baden said, though funding for treatment resources was not cut.
“We had been planning, this year, to do a really big communications education, prevention, treatment program,” Baden said. “That got cut, but there are still lots of other departments that have great education communication programs this year, so we’re latching onto those and making sure we’re present.”
At the beginning of 2019, RecoveryOhio’s advisory council offered DeWine 75 recommendations, which appeared on 2020’s budget. As officials had to decide which programs would be cut, Baden said she and her team went through the recommended budget items to ensure they didn’t cut programs that didn’t have other funding options.
Meanwhile, in articles published throughout the month of May, CNN reported that officials nationwide fear another surge in opioid use — and overdose deaths — after those working to decrease opioid use and related effects were forced to cease or modify their efforts.
Though Highland County Coroner Dr. Jeff Beery told The Times-Gazette on May 11 that his office had seen one confirmed and one probable overdose death since March 1, Franklin County, where Columbus is the county seat, experienced what Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz described as a “surge,” according to a CNN article published on May 7.
According to CNN, there was a 50 percent increase in fatal overdoses in Franklin County from January to April 15. There were 62 overdose deaths in Franklin County in the month of April, and in a single weekend in early May, Franklin County saw 28 non-fatal overdoses.
During Thursday’s meeting, Baden said RecoveryOhio has been working with Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services (OMHAS) to develop a strategy in the face of a surge in opioid use.
”The surge was here, we started seeing the uptick in many of our communities, it is here now — we are aware of that,” Baden said. “We really ramped up our surveillance, assessments and surveys of communities to make sure they had naloxone — we were working on that in March — so we were comfortable with everyone being supplied and also that they had a point of contact, someone to reach out to if they felt they had more need. That was then through the health systems, the QRTs [Quick Response Teams], the law enforcement.”
As part of a “Naloxone for All” initiative, people were also able to request naloxone kits, which were mailed directly to their homes.
“Meeting people where they are is so important right now,” Baden said. “For the most part, we were seeing that there were other organizations and entities that were picking up the slack where we needed these partnerships because the QRTs couldn’t be out there engaging these folks anymore.”
Baden added, “People were not going to the ER. We did have a brief period of time that was quite alarming that our overdose deaths were exceeding ER visits, which pointed to the fact that we needed better communication.”
Baden said organizations and entities like Interact for Health, an organization that focuses on the health of all people in the Greater Cincinnati area, encouraged people to seek medical treatment for emergencies like overdoses during the stay-at-home order.
According to Baden, the number of ER visits has increased.
During the surge, Baden said she and her team are concerned about those involved in the criminal justice system, including low-level, nonviolent offenders whom the state released as part of its COVID-19 response.
“We wanted to make sure these folks were equipped going out the door with warm handoffs to some sort of treatment access and naloxone. Sometimes that was successful, sometimes not,” Baden said. “There were times people were released when there were no treatment providers awake yet. That was a little frustrating. I think the communication lines we opened because of that are going to stay in place. It will be beneficial for us down the road to continue the conversations about these warm handoffs to folks other than their drug dealer when they’re leaving the criminal justice systems.”
Baden said that in recent phone calls with OMHAS Director Lori Criss, officials have identified the need for a more centralized crisis line that would offer a “warm handoff,” or more direct connection to resources.
If you’re struggling, call the Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health Center’s Highland County Crisis Hotline at 937-939-9904.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.