SIDNEY — The Shelby County Drug Task Force is continuing the conversation to find solutions to the opioid crisis through education, prevention and support.
A second Community Conversation was hosted by the Shelby County Drug Task Force and Shelby County Liberty Group at the American Legion Post No. 217 on North Fourth Avenue, Thursday night, Nov. 2. About 120 people attended the meeting that was free and open to the public.
“We’ve got a (Sept. 11)-scale loss (from drug overdoses) every three weeks in our country. Think about that. We loose 3,000 people every three weeks; 17 times a year. That is nearly as many people as we lost in the entire Vietnam War. … That’s why the Shelby County Liberty Group wanted to partner with the Shelby County Drug Task Force, because this is a crisis. …” HR Pence, of the Shelby County Liberty Group, said when opening the meeting.
Scott Barr, Shelby County United Way executive director, who served as the moderator of the event, explained the Shelby County Drug Task Force was formed in October 2016 in an attempt to deal with the growing drug epidemic here.
The goal of the drug task force, Barr said, is to share and collect data for use of grant purposes, so that law enforcement, government agencies, judicial and nonprofit leaders can implement strategic best practices and inform elected officials about the challenges Shelby County faces.
It comprises nearly 30 local organizations, including Bridges Community Action Partnership, city of Sidney, city of Sidney councilman, Council on Rural Services, Family and Children First Council, Family Resource Center, Metropolitan Housing, Midwest Regional Educational Service Center, Shelby County Juvenile Court, Ohio State Highway Patrol Post commander, Samaritan Works, Shelby County Adult Probation, Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Shelby County CASA, Shelby County commissioners, Shelby County Counseling Services, Shelby County Health Department, Shelby County Job & Family Services, Shelby County prosecutor, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Shelby County United Way, Sidney Fire Department, Sidney Police Department, Tri-County Board of Recovery, Anna police chief, Botkins police chief, Fort Loramie police chief, Jackson Center police chief and Wilson Health.
During the first part of the meeting, Barr displayed the same 30-minute PowerPoint presentation that was shown at the October meeting. Barr’s presentation pointed out that deaths caused by prescription opioid drug use were on the rise and claimed roughly 700 lives in 2011, until herioin use rose and took close to 1,500 lives in 2015 and in 2016. However, since 2015, he noted that fentanyl and related drugs’ use greatly spiked, bringing the number of deaths from those drugs to nearly 2,500 at the beginning of 2016.
The report showed that through October, the Sidney Fire & Emergency Services administered 274 doses of Naloxone, the generic name for the opioid antidote, Narcan, to 119 patients in more than 127 incidents. These numbers are much higher than in 2015, when 78 does were administered within 58 incidents, and 2016 when 171 does were administered in 100 incidents. Information about the numbers of patients the drug was administered to in 2015 and 2016 was not available. The Sidney Police Department administered 15 doses of naloxone in 2017 and 13 in 2016.
After information and statistics were given, Barr opened the meeting to an informal discussion between attendees and panel members.
Panelists included Sidney Police Chief Will Balling; Julie Clay, of the Shelby County Counseling Center; Shelby County Coroner Dr. A. David McDonald; Dr. Stephens Roberts, of Wilson Health Emergency Department; Tom Bey, of Shelby County Department of Job & Family Services; Sidney Fire Deputy Chief Cameron Haller; and Steven Tostrick, of the Shelby County Health Department.
Balling noted that Sidney’s proximity to Montgomery County by way of Interstate 75 contributes to the drug problem here. He said the police department’s partnership with the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and their “great work” helps to catch dealers transporting drugs from the Dayton area to Shelby County on I-75. He also noted the battle needs to be a group effort.
“One of the things we are doing is continuing partnerships within the community. Law enforcement, whether it be the sheriff’s office or ours, cannot do it on their own. We need to have the other groups, all the other nonprofit groups coming together. But we need to have the community groups, your group,” he gestured to the crowd, “the buinesses; people that care in the community to reach out and help us with this issue,” said Balling. “The change has to start everywhere. It can’t just start at one location.”
Several people, from recovering drug users to concerned residents, to county commissioners, to probation officers and other law enforcement officers, to affected family members and city officials, participated in the open conversation. Several attendees had many questions about whether the addiction is actually a disease, why addicts are not arrested, who pays for Narcan, where and how users can get help, and how innocent bystanders and residents can protect themselves, among others.
“It is a disease. The problem with addiction is that there is not a simple answer. The first part is, we want to cut back the number of people we expose to the opioid in the first place. … The next part is identifying the person with the problem. … For these people, the reason it is worse for them with alcohol or a narcotic, is because it lights up a part of the brain that is not present in a nonaddicted person. Then the next part is to get them into a treament program. … Then it needs to be a long-term (treatment plan),” said Roberts. “It is a lifetime illness.”
Bey noted the issue is complicated especially when children are involved. The Shelby County Department of Job & Family Services’s statistic revealed that 76 percent of newly-opened cases involving either neglected of abused childern come from households with drug-addicted parents. He said often parents have many barriers to overcome in a short amount of time to get back on their feet and be able to bring removed children back into their homes. Once a child is removed, parents only have a year to prove it is a stable environment in order to reunite with their children.
In response to a question about how people should protect themselves and what they can do, Balling said, “Exactly what you are doing now by being involved and learning.” He urged people to report information or suspcious activity and to work together as a community. Barr also encouraged people to reach out to their city council members and share concerns.
The next task force public meeting is tentatively set for January 2018.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.