Driehaus: We need to invest more to curb heroin epidemic

Posted at 8:35 AM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-14 09:03:13-05

CINCINNATI – As the heroin epidemic evolves, local leaders say a top challenge remains: finding money for programs that are curbing the epidemic.

In her new role as Hamilton County Commissioner, Denise Driehaus said that’s a top job she plans to tackle as she steps on as a chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. 

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The impact of the heroin epidemic on Hamilton County can’t be “underestimated,” said Driehaus. In 2016 alone:

  • More than 10,000 bookings in the Hamilton County Justice Center involved heroin users.
  • 3,550 emergency room visits to local hospitals occurred as a result of overdoses.
  • 2,390 calls were made to 911 dispatchers related to heroin overdoses.
  • More than 195 heroin-related deaths occurred.

“The biggest question is, How do we get more resources and money to expand what’s working?” said Driehaus, who is replacing former commissioner Dennis Deters as chair of the nearly 40-member coalition.

Denise Driehaus

Under her leadership, Driehaus said the group’s mission will remain focused on prevention, expanding access to treatment, harm reduction and public safety. But, she said, a bigger focus will be placed on brining more money to Hamilton County to battle the problem. 

“We have seen success with some great programs, but we’re under-resourced and can’t expand them unless we find more funding,” she said. 

More resources for treatment, quick response teams

Newly created Quick Response Teams are having some success, Driehaus said.

First launched in Colerain Township, the teams include a police officer, paramedic and counselor for the Addiction Services Council who comb through reports of ambulance runs and police calls to uncover the names of residents who have recently overdosed.

Then the team sets out to meet with any of the individuals they can find, offering resources for detox, recovery and treatment. Under the program, which has been expanded to Norwood and other local communities, overdoses are down by 36 percent.

“We know it’s having a big impact, but we can’t keep up with the volume of people because we don’t have enough social workers engaged,” Driehaus said. “We really have to drill down and find all the resources we can to expand programs like these.”

Where might more funding come from?

The majority of any new funding aimed at battling heroin will have to come from state and federal sources, Driehaus said. 

She’s hopeful that the county will be successful in landing a piece of the more than $181 million in grants and other funding that could be soon available through the 2016 Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act – a measure Sen. Rob Portman championed in Congress.

“It’s important we understand all the grant opportunities that are available and know what those application processes look like so we’re ready to apply,” she said. “We have to be proactive, because we can’t let any of these opportunities pass us by.”

Last month, Driehaus added Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann, Rep. Jonathan Dever, and representatives from both Portman and Sen. Sherrod Brown’s offices to the coalition.

Their appointments, she said, are key as also local leaders vie for the limited funding available.

“If we want them to advocate for more resources, we have to have them in the room and keep to them up to speed with what we’re doing,” she said.

For its part, Hamilton County has proposed spending about $1 million on boosting addiction treatment services across the county. Last year, the county spent about $1.53 million on that work. Driehaus asked the commission to consider increasing the 2017 investment.

“We know treatment can work -- especially medication assisted treatment -- so making sure we have enough resources to get people into treatment is critical,” she said. 

What needs more work?

Also key, Driehaus said, is improving coordination between the community’s response to the epidemic and the region’s local health systems.

“There seems to be a push to get the hospitals more engaged,” she said.

Specifically, Driehaus said, local leaders are eager to “better understand” what options are open to individuals who have overdosed from heroin and then been transported and revived in a local emergency room.

“As these folks are admitted to (emergency departments), what does that hand-off look like?” Driehuas said. “Are they being told about treatment options? The theory is, they’re in a medical setting, and there is an opportunity to get them the care they need to help them recover, but I’m told we are not always doing a great job with this.”

Efforts are under way to coordinate a meeting among local health system executives to discuss their services and get their input, she said.

“If there was a more collective and coordinated effort, we could be more effective as getting people the help they need,” she said.