- Michael Cooper Staff Writer
The number of opioid overdoses and deaths continue to climb, prompting Clark County health and law enforcement leaders to examine what more can be done and to pledge to fight the stigma around addiction.
About 70 community leaders from across all areas — including judges, law enforcement, mental health, businesses and more — attended a community Forum on Wednesday put on by the Clark County Substance Abuse Prevention, Treatment and Support Coalition at the Rocking Horse Center in Springfield.
The goal was to provide an update to local leaders about what the coalition has accomplished and what it can do to fill in the gaps to reduce opioid addiction in the community, said Wendy Doolittle, CEO of McKinley Hall, a local drug treatment facility.
““We’re working together well, but we’ve got to figure out exactly what it is we have to do together that’s that thing that’s going to start to turn this thing around,” she said. “The ship is just not turning yet.”
The majority of the 79 drug deaths in Clark County last year involved heroin and illicit fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin. There have been 42 unconfirmed drug deaths in Clark County this year, Doolittle said.
The number of calls for mental health services has gone down, she said, while the number of overdoses has increased — meaning people are likely self-medicating. There were 756 calls to the Springfield Police Division for a mental health situation last year, while there were 388 for overdoses. This year, there have been 317 overdoses, more than double the 156 mental health calls.
The epidemic is touching every sector of the community, she said, including safety services, children’s services and schools, among others.
“If we don’t educate the community to understand this disease better, it doesn’t get any better, it won’t get any better,” Doolittle said. “Stigma is also a huge part of the problem.”
The forum discussed the disease of addiction, the effectiveness of treatment and filling in the remaining gaps in the system, such as a place for addicts to go after being released from the hospital after an overdose.
The community has made strides in recent years, Doolittle said, including hiring peer support specialists to check-in with recent overdose patients, the drug death review committee and recovery housing.
Many of the new ideas from the forum will be brought back to the coalition for further discussion, Doolittle said.
“When we come up with some solutions, we have to find funding to implement those things, bring them back and constantly evaluate things,” she said.
As of Wednesday morning, Springfield Regional Medical Center has treated 12 overdoses in the past 12 hours, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said, more than three times over the threshold limit. The spike caused the Ohio Department of Health to alert local health officials, he said.
“Your folks who are on the street are seeing this over the last 12 hours, they’ve been treating the overdose victims at the hospital, on the streets, again,” Patterson said. “It’s the perfect reason while we’re all together today to figure out how we can begin to do additional things than what we’ve already been doing to make a dent in this problem.”
Leaders also signed a Community Action pledge to help addicts and their family and work to end the stigma associated with drug addiction.
“It’s going to take all of us in this meeting today to work together to do this,” Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett said. “What’s going to happen and how we’re going to conquer this — I can’t give you an answer to that. It’s going to take the whole community to be able to do it.”
The concentration should be on education and prevention, Clark County Municipal Court Judge Gene Nevius said.
“We’ve got to stop the flow at the very beginning and get people informed as to what needs to be done to avoid this,” he said. “It’s a tremendous idea to get everyone together and on the same page.”
The municipal court does all the things a drug court does, Nevius said. With an expanded budget, the court could do more, he said.
“The city and county have both been reluctant to pay more in the way of a budget to have a drug court,” Nevius said. “This is what we do with what we’ve got.”
Everybody is working so hard on battling the epidemic that they’re all working in their own world, Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said.
“This is a great effort to bring everybody to the table to work across all the different groups handling the issue,” he said.