Ohio is investing more than one billion dollars each year to help communities fight against drug abuse and addiction at the local level. The opioid epidemic is a significant public health problem, leading the way in overdoses and deaths.
On April 10, UT hosted an Opioid Summit in Student Union 2592 to enhance and expand the involvement of the university in fighting the opioid crisis in Ohio.
Medical Director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Dr. Mark Hurst said this has been the entire state’s major focus for about eight years now.
Within recent years, some progress was made with opioid prescriptions declining for a fifth consecutive year according to the Ohio Department of Health. However, overdose deaths from opioids have increased by more than five times since 1919.
Toledo’s approach, though, is comprehensive in involving different social service agencies, the university and sheriff’s office, allowing for accessible treatment and preventing the epidemic from growing further, Dr. Hurst said.
The crisis dates back to the 1990s when assertions were made that physicians inadequately treated pain. As a consequence, more and more opioid medications were prescribed that were effective for pain, but high in propensity for addiction, Dr. Hurst said.
Over subsequent years, prescriptions have increased, resulting in an inflation of opioid related deaths, specifically with heroin and fentanyl.
Ohio’s approach to this epidemic involves focusing on effective and evidence-based treatments helping individuals recover. It offers life-saving measures to help those who may have overdosed.
"It's important to recognize that addiction is destructive to a person in every way,” Dr. Hurst said. Adding effective treatments need to address physical, mental and spiritual health.
He shared the combination of counselling and medication can help a person's brain heal from an opioid addiction.
“You have about a two to three times better recovery rate if people use medication on top of the counselling,” Dr. Hurst said.
He shared it’s equally important for people to have support in place for their recovery through safe and sober housing environment alongside opportunities for employment.
“… things that give that hope that life can change as a result of their recovery process,” Dr. Hurst said.
While drug overdose deaths continue to increase in men and women, different races and adults of all ages in the country, the fight to end the epidemic continues. The issue specifically targets Toledo due to the accessibility of the drugs.
“If you look at the data in Toledo, Lucas County, three people die every single week from opioids,” Professor of Public Health Amy Thompson said. “Just since January, we've had 166 overdoses.”
To tackle the crisis in the community, President Sharon Gaber asked co-chairs of UT Opioid Task Force, Dr. Amy Thompson and Dean of the College of Nursing Linda Lewandowsky, to gather faculty, researchers and community partners to help solve opioid related problems through collaborating on research and creating programs.
Thompson said since 90 percent of people who try to stop using opioids relapse, new treatment recovery programs and interventions need to be developed in the community. Adding, priority populations need to be identified and programs be tested to see if they're evidence based.
“This is the problem that touches families and individuals,” Thompson said. “No one is spared from this.”
She added the process needs longer term care and solutions as it’s been steadily climbing for the past five to six years. However, admitting we're in the middle of an epidemic and addressing the issue with kids early on is a start.
"This is not something that's going to be solved overnight,” Thompson said. “This is going to take a lot or work, a lot planning, a lot of resources."
UT has already taken steps in enabling the recovery process after opening its new Adult Detoxification Inpatient Unit at the medical center last year. The 10-bed unit includes a team of nurses, social workers and other trained staff in detox and behavioral health.
The team helps patients manage physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug or alcohol abuse and connecting users with services to help them overcome addiction.
However, UT isn’t the only facility taking steps to minimize the opioid crisis. ADAMS House is a program for men who suffer with substance abuse formed in 2004.
The three-quarter housing program began shortly after a homeless man with a drug problem got kicked out of a facility and landed on Dan Hill’s couch on Dec. 27, 2004. Hill is the executive director and founder of ADAMS house.
Since then, Hill has helped hundreds of individuals through ADAMS’ four-component program, including recovery, domestic education, vocation and budgeting. Hills said the programs focus on reparenting individuals to get them in a uniform process.
“We have a variety of needs that need to be met,” Hills said. “It goes back to what mom and dad taught us when we were little.”
Hills himself has struggled with drug abuse for 30 years, recidivism for 28 years and homelessness for 19 years. He said it’s important for him to be of service to drug abusers since he understands the issue better than anyone else.
The sense of family is what encourages these individuals to stay in the house, Hills said. The self-governing environment creates a family atmosphere, housing 46 men in six different houses.
The group conducts weekly outcomes on Sundays to check on the members’ progress. As long as individuals don't smoke inside the premises, they are welcome to come inside, Hills said.
He added, if you put people in a house who have a desire to get sober, then they will police each other and hold one another accountable, paving the way for a successful recovery.