Overdose Prevention Treatment Team Hoping to Reduce Overdoses in Athens County

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ATHENS — A new program coming to Athens County will encourage people struggling with addiction to seek treatment before they suffer a fatal overdose.

The Overdose Prevention Treatment Team will identify people at risk, then reach out to inform them about the available treatment resources.

“The majority of the people out there want help,” Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (317) Board Deputy Director Bill Dunlap said. “They just don’t know how to [get help]. Or they don’t have the resources.”

Deputies from the Athens County Sheriff’s Department will be the ones to go out into the community with addiction specialists from Hopewell Health Centers available, when needed. The 317 Board, Athens County EMS, and O’Bleness Emergency Hospital will provide additional support and information as part of the pilot program.

The program is funded by a $75,000 grant for two years awarded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The Sheriff’s Department will use the funds for overtime pay to the deputies going out on behalf of the team.

The department had been looking for an opportunity to create a program like the Overdose Prevention Treatment Team for a while, according to Sheriff Rodney Smith. He said it allows them to use resources to combat the opioid epidemic without pulling resources away from other responsibilities.

“We can’t continually keep pulling the road officers off the road. It will be an overtime situation where we’ll send the deputies out there and let [those at risk] know what resources are available and actually offer them a ride if they would like a ride to Hopewell.”

The goal of the team is to get those wanting to enter treatment into services as soon as possible.

Hopewell Health Centers was recently awarded a federal grant created by the 21st Century Cures Act to become a “rapid access” facility in August.

The designation means those needing treatment won’t have to be put on a waiting list.

“We can get them with a medical provider within 24 hours,” Hopewell’s Clinical Director in Athens Sandy Sickles said. “We can also guide them into getting medical insurance. I know that was a concern with people not getting treatment.”

This goes along with other services offered by Hopewell including Medication Assisted Treatment, primary care, and behavioral health services.

Athens County recorded six fatal overdoses in 2016, the latest year the data from the state Department of Health has on record. Estimates indicate the county has had hundreds of nonfatal overdoses in the past 12 months. And many more could be struggling with addiction without reporting an overdose.

The team isn’t sure what to expect as a response to the program, for this reason.

“We could see more people come out than we expected,” Dunalp said.

Other communities have implemented their own teams that have seen success.

Colerain Township Assistant Fire Chief Will Mueller told Fox19 their “Quick Response Team” –a model for many other programs– had 8 out of 10 people they interacted with enter treatment at one point.

Athens County’s team will emulate a similar team in Ross County. Where some programs seek out people who have overdosed, their team also seeks out people known to be at risk of an overdose.

“They’re telling us they have a 25 percent success rate,” Sheriff Smith said. “If you can reach out to 25 percent of the people and they get better…to me that’s just a big victory.”

Any victory is a welcome one when trying to turn the corner on the opioid crisis.

Those in law enforcement see programs like this as a refreshing opportunity.

“Putting them in jail is not working,” Deputy Doug Crites, who will deal with logistics in the early goings of the program, said. “The deputies are getting frustrated. We’re seeing the same people in and out of the system. It’s just a burden on the tax system and the court system.”

And the community of those on the front lines fighting the addiction crisis in Athens County are ready to reach out to people with substance use disorders and offer them an opportunity for to enter recovery.

“They don’t belong in prison,” Dunlap said. “They’ve got a brain disease that needs to be treated. And they need to have the opportunity.”

The Overdose Prevention Treatment Team is scheduled to being operations in roughly two weeks.