High rate of drug overdose deaths has Butler County scrambling for a community action plan

Forum brings together schools, agencies, residents
High rate of drug overdose deaths has Butler County scrambling for a community action plan
Posted at 7:00 AM, Dec 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-03 07:00:09-05

In a county that ranks fourth in Ohio in drug overdose death rates, community is vital.

That's the message health and safety leaders in Oxford and surrounding Butler County are taking from a recent anti-drug forum hosted by Talawanda School District.

The forum brought together school district leaders, members of the Butler County Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Communities, Oxford city officials, Talawanda parents and other community members.

"The purpose of the night was to bring everyone together to just, in general, educate the community on the overall landscape," said Amy Macechko, health and wellness coordinator for Talawanda Schools.

District leaders organized the October event in response to Butler County's high rate of drug overdose deaths. According to a report by the Ohio Department of Health's Violence and Injury Prevention Program, the county had 33.2 unintentional drug overdose deaths per 100,000 persons between 2010 and 2015. Out of 88 counties, Butler County's rates were surpassed by only three others -- Clermont, Montgomery and Brown.

Some have suggested that Butler County's position along the Interstate 75 corridor, or a high Appalachian population, are contributing factors, but local and county representatives are unsure why the rates are so high.

"I think everybody is grappling with trying to figure it out," said Lauren Marsh, director of the Butler County Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Communities. "I don't think anybody knows exactly."

While the cause of the overdose death rate may be unknown, an emphasis on community is an integral component to addressing the issue, leaders agreed.

"It's going to need a community-based response," Macechko said.

"When you invite the community, that helps them to understand, not just the professionals," Marsh said.

Efforts already are emerging from the forum to bring together multiple sectors of the community.

"Multiple strategies across multiple sectors is kind of the tagline we used," Macechko said.

Faith community leaders were invited to Talawanda High School on Nov. 30 to discuss what they had learned from the forum and how they could collaborate with other sectors, like schools and government agencies. The forum's leaders also hope to organize a symposium in the spring focusing on new ways to integrate anti-drug education into faith-based teaching.

Such efforts to collaborate in fighting the effects of drug addiction -- particularly opiate addiction -- aren't exclusive to the Talawanda community. Local coalitions in Oxford, Middletown, Fairfield and Hamilton work together and with the Butler County Coalition for Safe and Drug-Free Communities to ensure consistent messaging on billboards and in anti-drug education for youth.

Like the Talawanda Schools community, members of the Fairfield Prevention Coalition (formerly the Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Fairfield) are also working on contributing to new initiatives at the local level. One of the most recent efforts is the Fairfield Opiate Task Force, formed this summer by Fairfield Prevention Coalition member and city council member Bill Woeste.

"He has been able to really draw together some experts to try and get some prevention and get some initiatives in place that are specific to Fairfield," said Deborah Neyer, executive director for the Fairfield Prevention Coalition.

Woeste is in the information-gathering phase for the task force, which acts as an offshoot of the coalition to focus more specifically on opiate addiction, Neyer said. The task force is expected to be geared toward prevention and treatment of opiate abuse.

Properly disposing of prescription medications is one way community members can help curb the problem, Neyer said.

"A lot of times people don't even know that they need to dispose of it in a safe way," she said.

Prescription drug drop boxes for expired or unneeded drugs are available at police departments in Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe, Hamilton, Oxford and Miami University, as well as at the Butler County Sheriff's Office.

In addition to the drop boxes, drug destruction bags are a relatively new initiative offered at the county level. The bags contain deactivated charcoal, enabling individuals to destroy and dispose of safely prescription drugs at home.

"The byproduct is, that will get drugs out of harm's way," Marsh said.

The bags have been made available at local churches, health care facilities, doctors' offices, local coalitions and the Butler County Health Department.

Marsh is also seeking a pharmaceutical company or other entity to sponsor an initiative to make the bags more widely available.