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How Ohio Hospitals are Battling the Opioid Epidemic

Today it’s hard to meet someone whose life hasn’t been affected by the opioid epidemic. We have all lost family and friends as the opioid crisis marches on – but help is on the way. Ohio has been harshly hit by the current epidemic, falling only behind West Virginia in the number of opioid deaths per capita according to DrugAbuse.gov.

The federal government recently sent the Buckeye State $71.5 million in emergency federal funds to help battle the growing crisis. Ohio has devoted that money to helping local drug education centers and extending telemedicine services, but the fight won’t be solved with money alone. The battle against the opioid epidemic starts where many opioid addicts end up – local hospitals.

Ohio-area hospitals are making fighting back their prime goal and have adopted a series of techniques and practices to battle the opioid crisis including creating more and better-outfitted community health centers, give more information about the use and availability of the life-saving drug Narcan, putting in medical drop-boxes at their facilities, and running more opioid-free departments to start.

“Call it what you will — a national emergency, addiction crisis, drug epidemic — regardless of the terminology, we are experiencing the biggest drug epidemic to ever hit our country,” Larry Graham, president for Behavioral Health Services at Mercy Health. “If we fail to address this crisis effectively, we will be facing losses over the next decade on par with the Civil War.”

The education and outreach aren’t only centered around current addicts. Mercy Hospital staff will be working more directly with prescribers and doctors in their wings to better combat potential abuse. This includes looking for signs of addiction or likely signs of addiction during screenings and patient histories and partnering those who could have addiction problems with outreach efforts. Addiction teams will also be speaking directly with doctors to discuss how and why they should be prescribing opioids, what to look for in potential addicts, and alternatives to prescribing opioids when unnecessary.

Mercy Health, Mercy Hospital’s medical network located in Kentucky and Ohio, launched its Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) program in December of 2015. The goal of SBIRT is to help educate doctors and potential addicts about opioid dangers. They have expanded the program to several more hospitals and medical treatment facilities since then. According to Graham, the program has screened over 100,000 people already, helped identify over 1,000 patients as at risk for drug and opioid addiction, and has referred over 800 patients to more direct treatment facilities like certified drug rehabilitation centers.

The Mercy Health Foundation recently made a half-million-dollar donation to Narcan Distribution Collaborative, an organization that helps get life-saving Narcan into the hands of more medical professionals, first responders, and even opioid users. The donation is part of a larger effort to combat opioid addiction and death in the community.

Mercy also believes in short-term treatment for alcohol and drug patients before getting them transferred to a long-term treatment facility. This is known as a ‘warm handoff’ in the medical community or getting a patient directly into treatment from detox without time between.

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“At Mercy Health, we believe that we will ultimately be successful when we shift our focus on increasing the number of people living with opioid use disorder — as functional, contributing members of society, working toward their dreams,” said Graham.

Mercy isn’t the only Ohio hospital that’s looking to reverse opioid trends. Fort Hamilton Hospitals FORT (Fort’s Opioid Recovery Taskforce) program has also made an impact by devoting many parts of the community to aid in treatment and addiction recovery. “The battle against opioid abuse is a community effort that collaborates with law enforcement and recovery resources to reach out to those struggling with addiction in an effort to move them to treatment,” said Jennifer Mason, EMS coordinator at the hospital and FORT’s founder.

Fort Hamilton has forged local partnerships with treatment centers, fire departments, medics, and other first responders. First responders see the ravages of opioid addiction every day and are being pushed as a major tool in getting involved in the community to fight opioids. Fort Hamilton and its first responders want to be certain that anyone who needs or wants help can get it quickly.

Several other Ohio-based health centers and hospitals have joined the fight with Mercy and Fort Hamilton. The City of Middleton and Atrium Medical Center have partnered to field a heroin response team and have already held 13 summits which focus on heroin in the community and how to beat it. Proper medical disposal receptacles found at hospitals around Butler and Warren Counties have received more than a quarter ton of unused and potentially dangerous medication. Atrium alone has disposed of more than 100 pounds of opioids.

Ohio officials know the battle they face and know it won’t be solved through hospitals alone. “Substance abuse evolves over time — overdose deaths resulting from prescription opioids, for example, are declining, while deaths from illicit fentanyl, carfentanil, cocaine, and methamphetamine are on the rise,” said Premier Health spokesman Ben Sutherly.

There are positive results from the efforts. Premier Health officials report that treatment of opioid overdoses has dropped a dramatic 74% since the implication of area programs and drug disposal receptacles are being filled.

Even Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips has put herself into the battle forming commissions, starting needled exchange programs, expanding Narcan, and providing more opportunities for community members to receive quick and quality treatment. Phillips and her department are also reaching out to nearby schools to expand their anti-opioid crusade.

“I’m looking at all the families that have been touched by opiates that are probably traumatized, especially the kids,” she said. “To me, I feel like it’s really, really something we need to start touching on.”

Getting Help in Ohio

Ohio may be fighting one of its toughest battles against opioid addiction but there are ways out if you or a loved one is currently addicted. If you need help, there are dozens of licensed detox centers and treatment facilities scattered across Ohio – and they’re ready to help you.

Pick up the phone and call our treatment facility. We can help wean your body and mind off opioids in a safe, controlled, and comfortable manner so you won’t have to fight dope-sickness and withdrawal like you would on your own.

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