GREEN If raw numbers alone told the story, the first year of Green’s Go Team opiate overdose quick response team was a markedly successful one.
The team, made up of a fire-medic, a police officer and an Oriana House social worker, visits homes where overdoses have occurred in the prior week, with the goal of convincing the overdose victim to seek treatment.
Since launching on Jan. 25, 2017, as the second "quick response team" in the county behind Cuyahoga Falls, the Green Go Team’s efforts have gone from 20 visits, with 10 percent of those visited seeking treatment, in February 2017, to five visits and a 60 percent treatment rate in January 2018.
"In the first year, we’ve made 121 visits and have had a 25 percent average (treatment seeking rate) – and I think 25 percent is amazing," said Green Fire Lt. Randy Porter, who heads up the department’s EMS division. "If we had not visited, might those people have sought treatment on their own? Maybe. But we do know the number we have assisted."
Still, Porter – as well as Green Fire Chief Jeffrey Funai and Mayor Gerard Neugebauer – are only cautiously optimistic.
"I really like statistics and I really don’t like statistics; there are just so many variables, " Porter said, noting that the team leaves treatment literature at the home will visit a home up to three times for a face-to-face meeting. However, there is a roughly one-week window of opportunity, he said, when the near-death experience of an overdose is still fresh.
The department’s numbers, Porter explained, are based upon EMS runs and administering of Narcan – the brand name of the only FDA-approved nasal form of naloxone used as an emergency treatment of a known or suspected opioid overdose. However, in some cases, overdose victims and their families are prescribed Narcan and the drug can be administered at home.
"We are trying to determine the impact of our efforts, or if opiates are just down overall," Porter said. "But it used to be, if a fireman and a police officer and a social worker came to the door, you heard toilets flushing and people running out the back door. Now, we’ve had people waiting for us saying ‘It’s 11:30; I thought you were going to be here at 11."
At the same time that the department is crunching its numbers locally, Porter said, it is also analyzing state and national data on opiate overdose and treatment rates. Some of those studies have indeed indicated that the rash of deaths related to fentanyl and carfentanil-laced heroin has led to a downturn in heroin use, albeit with a corresponding rise in meth amphetamine use.
"And we have seen cases where they are even putting fentanyl in marijuana; the marijuana people smoked in the ’70s is not the same today," Porter said.
Residents and travelers
In a March 14 Public Officials Forum at Green High School that included comments from Neugebauer; Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry; Summit County Municipal Court Judge Todd McKenney; Jerry Craig, executive director of the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health (ADM) board; and Gregory Allison, regional liaison from the office of Ohio Governor John Kasich, Neugebauer noted instances involving the administering of Narcan in Green so far in 2018 have been less than half the rate of the same time period in 2017.
Still, the mayor noted, industrial areas of the city, as well as its quick access to Interstate 77, continue to present challenges not all municipalities face.
According to Porter, of 60 instances of administering Narcan last year, 32 of the victims were residents of Green and 28 were not.
Along with countywide efforts to coordinate the reporting of non-resident overdoses among municipalities, these numbers have led Green officials to declare at least two motels – Super 8 and Steve’s Motel – as nuisance properties due to the number of drug overdose related calls, Nuegebauer said.
"We decided (to register) the property as a nuisance, but in 2017, I would say they were in my office every two weeks discussing how they could make improvements," Neugebauer said.
While the Super 8 property is still considered a nuisance, the mayor said, increasing security and implementing policy changes like requiring a $100 deposit for cash transactions has in part led to a 30 percent decline in calls to the hotel – which peaked at 96 in 2016.
Porter added that in many cases, a "dope sick" addict will shoot up before leaving work in Green, with the intention of making it home before the effects fully kick in.
"Then he’ll drive off the road on the way," Porter said.
Future of the Go Team program
As the city administration and fire department continue to analyze first-year numbers, both Neugebauer and Funai seem certain of one thing; Green’s Go Team is not likely to go away anytime soon. In fact, while the program is designed to address opiate-related incidents, the mayor and fire chief both said the Go Team will likely evolve into a means of connecting those with other drug and alcohol addiction problems to the services they need.
"It’s all about getting people the help they need," Funai said. "The image of our city is really important, but we have to be honest about the situation. If we act like the problem doesn’t exists, we are not going to fix it."