A coordinated addiction response in Hamilton County brought more face-to-face encounters last year with helpers and those who needed help with substance use disorder.
The Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition unveiled its 2021 annual report Friday at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown.
The novel coronavirus pandemic brought challenges, said coalition chair and county Commissioner Denise Driehaus. “A lot of the work that happens is face to face. … It’s really hard to do when you can’t have face-to-face engagement,” she said. But the annual report shows a significant rise in the strategy that meeting people where they are, on the streets, in emergency situations, at churches, schools and more to guide them to evidence-based treatment and other help.
The coalition released Hamilton County coroner and Ohio Health Department overdose counts through 2021 but noted the numbers are preliminary. Generally, though, both reports show that deaths from overdose in the county have remained relatively stable in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Driehaus said she believes the coalition’s multipronged approach to the epidemic has pushed that stability. Numbers from Hamilton County coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco’s office were: 487 overdose deaths in 2019, 499 in 2020, and 454 (preliminary) in 2021.
“We are talking about people’s lives here,” Driehaus said, “so while the trend is leveling … we are not celebrating. We are still losing folks.”
Here are some key efforts of the coalition last year that continue in 2022:
Expanding what Quick Response Teams do
The coalition has broadened its Quick Response Team efforts but maintained the teams’ original purpose: reaching out to overdose survivors at their homes within days of their overdose to help them get into treatment. The expansion includes peer mentors for drug court participants, a proactive African American male outreach team to address an escalating risk of overdose among those in this demographic, neighborhood meetings with education and hand-outs of fentanyl test strips and naloxone.
Prevention partnership work grows
The nonprofit Prevention First has a partnership with the Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program of Cincinnati. A major focus now is youth-led prevention training, said Nicole Schiesler, Prevention First president and CEO. The outreach group held a summer program with faith-based partners and Tikkun Farm in Mount Healthy. Leaders plan another one, and the curriculum will include youth violence prevention, tutoring, urban gardening, culinary arts and more. Among the activities planned: how to care for animals, a petting zoo as social-emotional learning, therapeutic rhythm drumming, fine arts and physical education.
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Inundating the region’s overdose hotspots with help
A Healing Communities grant (from the National Institutes of Health’s endeavors to help communities reduce overdose deaths) has yielded a “hotspots” program. Called the Price Hill Hotspot, the first program actually covers Cincinnati police District 3 on the city’s west side, said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a coordinator with the coalition. The area gets more overdose runs than many and that’s why it’s getting more intense, face-to-face care for people at high risk of relapse. The plan ito guide the people through a continuum of care for recovery. Another element is to give the area survival resources and education.
The Healing grant also helped with jail-based services, hospital work, peer recovery coaches and the purchase of Narcan, or naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote.
A broadened way to look at interdiction
The coalition has a Heroin Task Force team of law enforcement that works to reduce supply of illicit, often fentanyl-laced drugs and focus on dealers who sold the drugs linked to overdoses. In 2021, the task force started 212 of these investigations, a 15% jump from 2020, two of which were for non-fatal overdoses. Among the drugs the team recovered were more than 169 grams of fentanyl and 188 counterfeit pills.
But the interdiction team, which is the umbrella that includes the task force, sees its goal as greater than typical criminal justice efforts.
“We’re going after supply,” said Synan. “But can we do something different that makes a bigger impact?”
That “bigger impact: has included the hotspots initiative, a Cincinnati Fire Department program to get those who overdose to treatment locations and other similar endeavors, including the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which meets people on the streets and directs them to social services and casework .
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Faith community partnership grows
The Rev. Lesley Jones from Truth and Destiny Covenant Ministries and Cameron Foster, of Addiction Services Council and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church co-chair this group, which is also growing, the report shows.
The faith leaders note that “recovery encompasses a individual’s whole life, including mind, body, spirit and community,” the coalition noted. This group worked in 2021 (and continues to work) with pastors of primarily Black churches, gettting permission to engage with congregations about substance use, help them get fentanyl test strips and naloxone. The face-to-face engagement has a goal of broadening the understanding of addiciton, providing a warm, welcoming partnership with people in faith-based communities and reducing the stigma that comes from substance use disorders.