GREEN The Green Drug Task force posted some promising statistics at its most recent meeting in September.
However, officials stated that overall reductions in heroin overdoses could be misleading as methamphetamine abuse has simultaneously risen, and the need for volunteers in the task force’s various subcommittees remains.
Putting numbers in perspective
Drug Task Force Chairman Andy Platt noted that while Ohio accounts for 7 percent of the nation’s opioid overdose deaths, it is only 3.5 percent of the United States population.
"So there is more of a magnitude in Ohio," Platt said. "I don’t know why, but perhaps it is the strong Interstate system."
That could certainly be the case in communities like Green, Summit County Sheriff’s Sergeant Michael Walsh said.
Based upon statistics from the Summit County Health Department, the volume of drug overdose deaths was down in 2017, to 226. Of those, seven occurred in the city of Green, but only three of those seven involved a Green resident.
Even more grey area emerges when the choice of drugs is taken into account, according to Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer.
"We are still trending downward, but part of the problem is they are switching to different things, like methamphetamine," Neugebauer said. "So it is a changing landscape and the thing about opioids is that is slows down a person’s heart rate to the point of death. Amphetamines will still kill, it just can take a lot longer."
This sort of shift, Neugebauer said, has led to the expansion of the Green Go Team - the city’s quick response team made up of first responders and mental health professionals who visit the home of an overdose victim mere days after an overdose to urge them to seek treatment.
The team now responds to homes with a variety of substance abuse issues, including alcoholism, Neugebauer said, adding that he believes this is one of the most important developments since the start of the Green Drug Task Force.
Numbers still concerning
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration statistics, accidental drug overdose deaths in Summit County peaked in 2016, with 312 reported – compared to 60 accidental overdose deaths countywide just three years earlier.
In 2017, the SAMHSA reported, an average of nine people per day are seen in Summit County hospital emergency rooms for overdoses.
In short, while of opioid abuse statistics – and drug abuse numbers in general – seem to be trending positively in some ways, it is perhaps more important than ever to keep an eye on the ball.
"There are not a lot of people here," Neugebauer said bluntly to the dozen attendees at the Sept. 8 Drug Task Force public meeting. "There is a real stigma to drug use – it is hard to express or recognize the problem and we must better understand the mental health aspects of addiction."
He added that some estimates state that 10 percent of overdose victims seek help and only 10 percent of those actually receive it. As he encouraged Drug Task Force volunteerism, the mayor noted the contributions of the city’s faith-based community and said "we must be accepting of those who have addictions."
"I want something to change instead of hearing more and more stories about the OD death of a loved one. I want that to end," Neugebauer said. "We need to do a better job of treating people instead of symptoms. We are on a long road."
Mairin Moncino, advocacy director for government relations and health policy at Summa Health System, said residents should also pay close attention to efforts like Issue 1 on the November ballot – which seeks to reduce penalties for drug use and possession and placing more of an emphasis on drug rehabilitation efforts.
Moncino said this "essentially de-criminalizing" of drug offenses could result is potentially overburdening health care providers.