Growing opiate epidemic in need of quick response

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When it comes to making a dent in the deadly opiate epidemic that stubbornly continues to spiral out of control all around us, timing is everything.

The quicker an overdose victim gets rescued by emergency medical services, safety forces or family members with the life-saving antidote naloxone, the better.

And the quicker those same overdose victims participate in professional treatment programs to avert any repeat dare with death, the better as well.

In the past couple of years, tremendous progress has been made in that first time-sensitive scenario as EMS, safety forces and family members have gained increasingly easy access to the wonder drug naloxone. The Ohio Department of Health estimates that at least 2,300 more state residents would have died in 2015 without it.

Such progress, however, has been far less visible when it comes to monitoring OD victims and leading them swiftly into critical follow-up treatment and counseling. Many simply relapse again and again, thereby making no tangible progress in reversing the upward trend lines of the opiate menace.

And those lines show no signs of falling anytime soon. Last year, the Mahoning Valley’s death toll from drug and opiate abuse soared to a record high of 227, according to data from county coroners compiled by The Columbus Dispatch. By all accounts, the pace of opiate overdoses and deaths continues to escalate this year.


Fortunately for Mahoning County residents, a program planned by Sheriff Jerry Greene in partnership with Meridian HealthCare, a Youngstown-based drug-addiction treatment center, holds promise to significantly accelerate bringing potentially life-altering treatment to those who have survived an overdose of heroin, fentanyl or other opiate.

Mahoning County commissioners voted last week to apply for a two-year $150,000 grant from the state Attorney General’s office to help defray costs of implementing a county Quick Response Team comprised of deputy sheriffs, emergency medical services representatives and Meridian counselors. The team would be required to contact OD victims within 24 to 72 hours of their brush with death and lead them to counseling and treatment.

The grant proposal merits funding as it clearly meets the primary criterion for approval: creating partnerships between law enforcement and treatment providers. A decision on the grant is expected by next Thursday. Aug. 31

We’re confident that Mahoning County would register the same productive results as found in other parts of the state where QRTs already are in place. Greene and his partners have modeled the Mahoning QRT after one in Hamilton County where the impact has been stunning.

In Colerain Township, a community in Hamilton County only slightly smaller than Youngstown, a QRT formed there in July 2015 has resulted in 80 percent of overdosed individuals engaging in treatment and a 30 percent reduction in emergency calls for overdoses, according to date presented at the Eighth Annual Ohio Opiate Conference in Columbus earlier this summer.

To achieve maximum success, however, the Mahoning County QRT will need broad-based and complementary support from state and federal sources.

In the state, the Ohio Mayors Alliance, an organization of city mayors across the state including those from Youngstown and Warren, this week urged Gov. John Kasich to establish an emergency operations center to coordinate the state’s response to the opioid crisis and to serve as a central clearinghouse for information on best practices for all communities to access.

In Washington, there also is no more time to waste before President Donald Trump officially declares the opiate epidemic a national emergency, as he vowed to do 15 days ago. We hope the paperwork toward that end is not mired knee-deep in the federal bureaucratic muck. Its benefits could well trickle down to Ohio and the Mahoning Valley.

An emergency lets states and localities access money in the federal Disaster Relief Fund and it erases regulations that have forbidden Medicaid patients from entering large treatment centers.

The need for treatment of opiate addiction will only grow larger once the quick response team takes charge in Mahoning County.

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