'Fentanyl is the new game; is a game changer'

Zoe Greszler • Apr 4, 2017 at 7:00 PM

No one can argue there is a severe and troubling drug problem in Huron County.

What many are unsure of is how to battle it.

As part of Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State visit Tuesday, officials with the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) visited with Huron County health leaders to discuss how the issue is being handled.

The ODH found takeaways from the local level they plan to look at implementing on the state level, adapting them to be used by other communities across the state, including Huron County Public Health’s latest app the Needle Finder, overdose alerts and its initiatives in public awareness of the issues.  

“We learned things today that are happening at the community level — the collaboration that’s happening between the clinical health, (law enforcement and mental health). I think some of the steps that they’re taking at the local level, we want to take back and learn more about and see if it can be replicated in other areas that are similar,” Lance Himes, ODH interim director told the Reflector after Tuesday’s media briefing on Fighting the Drug Epidemic. 

“Ohio has one of the most aggressive and comprehensive approaches in the country to addressing drug use and overdose deaths,” he added. “Winning the battle against drug use and overdose deaths will take all of us working together, including strong leadership and engagement at the local level which I think you’ll see is happening here in Huron County. We’re very pleased with that.”

Kasich’s proposed executive budget for the next two years includes an additional $2 million to launch new Project DAWN sites and to help prevent accidental overdoses and save lives. 

In 2016 there were 17 overdose deaths in Huron County, with some that are pending, compared to 12 in 2015 — a 41.7-percent increase. There was a 78-percent increase in ER overdose in the same one-year span.

Huron County had 349 drug-related complaints of overdose in Huron County and in Bellevue in 2016. That was 153 more than 2015. In 2015 the county saw three overdoses per week in the ER. Last year, from January to October, that number was “more like five people per week,” according to health educator Elaine Barman, who discussed the HCPH’s new overdose outbreak alerts.

The department launched the program March 1 and saw its first use the next day. The alert that was issued through email, text, call and through social media saw 15,000 views on HCPH’s Facebook page. The same breaking news post shared on the Reflector’s page saw 60,004 people reached. 

“The No. 1 thing we heard after this was, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize we were at this level,’ so this has been a great awareness piece, helping out community to be aware,” Barman said.

“If you were listening, you didn’t hear as much concern about heroin, but more concern about fentanyl,” said health commissioner Tim Hollinger.

“Fentanyl is the larger concern. We didn’t see as much overdose occurring when it was just heroin. When fentanyl started to be added and some of the analogs of fentanyl were added into the heroin supply that’s when we started to see that rapid increase of overdoses. ... We have a lot of things we have to look at that we haven’t looked at in the past. Fentanyl is the new game; is a game changer. It’s a disturbing trend.

“Right now we’re talking about down stream. We have to go upstream,” he said, adding the plans so far are only addressing a ”small portion of the community dealing with drug abuse — the non-functional.”

“We have by-and-far a large population, as does every community in America, of people that are addicted to opioids and are functional in our community. We may not even know they’re addicted, but they are, and they don’t know how to get off. That’s going to take additional programming and it’s going to be expensive programming and nobody is going to want to pay that cost. But this is a growing and complex issue and it doesn’t have that simple and inexpensive solution.”

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