LIMA — The people on the front lines of the opioid crisis in Allen County shared some good news Friday: They’re making noticeable progress.
Overdose deaths, overdoses brought into hospitals and even the number of opiate prescriptions are on their way down, members of the Opioid Action Commission said during a meeting Friday morning at the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties’ office in Lima.
Rick Skilliter, who works with the Drug Overdose Survivor Support program through the Partnership for Violence Free Families, reported a similar decline in the number of overdose deaths. Allen County had one confirmed overdose death with two pending suspected overdose deaths in the first three months of 2018. Auglaize County had five overdose deaths, and Hardin County had zero.
“The sheriffs in all three counties are saying the overdose deaths are down, and that could be from getting the Narcan treatments to them before it’s too late,” Skilliter said.
The number of overdose-related visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers dropped from 46 in March 2017 to 21 last month, Tami Gough, the prevention and health promotion services director for Allen County Public Health. That amounted to a drop of 54 percent. It’s also down 22 percent from the 27 incidents recorded in March 2016.
“We’re seeing the same kind of positive things everyone else is seeing,” Gough said.
Doctors are adjusting the way they prescribes medications, at least at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s, said Brian Latham, director of pharmacy. So far in 2018, only 5.92 percent of the prescriptions are for opioids. That’s compared to 7.09 percent in 2017 and 7.8 percent in 2016.
“I kind of want to hug you right now,” said Michael Schoenhoefer, executive director of the mental health board. “That’s unbelievable good news, Brian. We’ve really made a lot of progress in a few years.”
Jay Simpson, of Lima Urban Minority Alcohol Drug Abuse Outreach Programs, said he’s seeing success in a plan to meet with addicts as quickly as police forces find them. Simpson talked about meeting with addicts at nearby McDonald’s restaurants to meet them where they’re comfortable.
“After dealing with someone with addictions, you realize a lot of them have burnt some bridges with family and friends,” Simpson said. “They’re pretty happy to see a compassionate face like mine.”
Another lesson learned along the way was to treat addiction like other illnesses, said Janis Sunderhaus, chief executive officer of Health Partners of Western Ohio. She noted early efforts to combat opioid addiction included treating it with separate programs. Now it’s an integrative part of the health care provided at the low- to no-cost provider.
Similarly, Mercy Health-St. Rita’s now screens visitors to its emergency departments for drug issues. Susan Hawk, Behavioral Health Chief of Clinical Integration, says eventually the hospital wants to expand that to the network of primary care physicians it has.
“It’s going to be part of our culture to ask more questions,” Hawk said.