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Opiate summit breaks down areas of success, need

By Sara Nealeigh, Lancaster Eagle-Gazette

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Circleville, August 17, 2016 | comments
The issues discussed at an opiate summit gave U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers his to-do list for the next year.
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CIRCLEVILLE - The issues discussed at an opiate summit gave U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers his to-do list for the next year.

The fourth opioid summit hosted by Stivers, R-Columbus, invited organizations and people from throughout Ohio's 15th district to participate in a discussion about what is being done and what needs addressed in the fight against opioid addiction. Stivers said, like in years past, he will take the notes created from each discussion and use them to create his list going forward.

He invited the summit's participants to think about paying for success based on performance in programs, and he passed out information on available grant funds and key legislation, including the recently passed Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.

The summit, hosted Wednesday at Ohio Christian University in Circleville, was divided into four groups this year to directly address discussions on criminal justice, housing and employment, prevention, and treatment. The format was different than in years past, where the discussion has been styled more like a roundtable but allowed groups to focus conversation on specific topics.

"It allowed each individual area to dig deeper, and I think we probably got more participation because we essentially got four hours of discussion in one hour. But what was lost was the cross-talk between the areas so we're going to try to relook at it again and see if we can improve it even more. But I'm glad we let people try a new format," Stivers said.

Dr. Adam Jackson, Chillicothe VA associate chief of primary care, said during the open discussion that he felt he missed the opportunity to hear perspectives from members of other groups, such as criminal justice and prevention, like he would have had in a roundtable discussion.

Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen said the roundtable didn’t yield any surprises, but the format allowed all stakeholders to discuss their “common denominators.”

“We’re all kind of on the same page as we recognize the problem and need for treatment,” he said.

The groups came together for the last half-hour of the summit to address some of their main talking points after the subsets allowed them to discuss what each organization represented was doing and what was needed in their own communities.

The treatment group discussed the need for more detoxification facilities and workforce expansion for substance abuse positions, while the prevention group talked about how to expand the prevention efforts not only in schools but to adults.

Housing and employment group members expressed concerns over access to treatment, transitional and long-term housing for people in recovery, as well as prospective incentives to help employers better understand addiction and what it means to be in recovery.

"For me, for sure, it's figuring out how to make sure we deal with funding for treatment. It is figuring out what we do to make sure that naloxone is available to local law enforcement and first responders to save lives of people that have overdosed. And we only talked about it a little bit, but this whole idea of re-entry and making sure that people are in recovery and come out of recovery can get a job and can go to school and have an opportunity at a second chance," Stivers said.

The criminal justice group addressed the continued use and funding of naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose; getting community engagement; and the use of post-overdose response teams, similar to one model in Ross County that combines members of law enforcement with members of the recovery community to address the overdoses and solve the cases surrounding them to find the distributor.

"What we kept coming back to is the partnership between public safety and public health and how great it's become over the years,"  said Eric Brown, deputy director of the Ohio High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, who led the small group discussion. Brown is a former Major Crimes Unit commander.

Phalen said the success of drug courts and how they have helped long-time drug users also was a main topic, along with the importance of departments carrying Narcan, a brand of naloxone.

Phalen said the sheriff’s office has saved three lives so far with the drug.

Major Crimes Unit Commander Dennis Lowe said carrying naloxone has become even more important for law enforcement because of the increase in fentanyl in the area.

Fentanyl is a highly potent drug being sold falsely as heroin because it is more lucrative for the seller, he said. Fentanyl can be absorbed through skin or inhaled, which Lowe said could cause an overdose to anyone who comes in contact, even inadvertently.

Lowe said that means departments must consider carrying naloxone even if they haven’t in the past because of the safety risk to officers and informants who may encounter the drug.
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