Will this plan curb opioid overdoses and deaths in Hamilton County?

CINCINNATI -- A program that's showing signs of curbing opioid overdoses in some local communities is expanding across Hamilton County.

On Tuesday, local leaders will officially launch a county-wide Quick Response Team that will work to connect residents who have recently overdosed with addiction treatment services.

In 2017, nearly a dozen people were overdosing each day across Hamilton County, according to county data. The pace of overdoses has begun to slow in recent months, but officials say now is not the time to back off of efforts to curb the epidemic.

"This is about saving lives and getting people the help they need," said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, who also leads the county's Heroin Coalition.

Denise Driehaus

Under the quick response program, a Hamilton County Sheriff's deputy will team up with an addiction services counselor twice a week to review emergency response data and follow up with area residents who've recently overdosed.

Each Tuesday, the teams will focus on recent overdoses on the eastern side of the county. On Fridays, the teams will move to the county's west side. Together, the teams create case management plans for those they connect with -- helping coordinate short-term and longer-term treatment plans.

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Leaders say they're hoping to replicate the success of three teams already operating in Price Hill, Colerain Township and Norwood. Those programs have been credited with driving down overdoses in those communities by more than 35 percent.

Using data to predict overdose hotspots

The county-wide teams are also partnering with the University of Cincinnati's Institute of Crime Science -- which is analyzing local overdose data for trends and hotspots.

By mapping known drug routes and charting overdoses, data experts at the Institute are working to predict when and where an overdose spike might occur. The analysts are also using countless other pieces -- including thefts from cars and other crimes -- that can be signs of drug-related activity.

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The voluminous amounts of data collected also helps officials draw links between those who've recently overdosed and their "first degree level friends," said Daniel Gerard, director of the institute.

"We've been able to find that, much like crime, overdoses are clustered in time and space," said Gerrard, who has more than 30 years of investigative police work under his belt as a retired Cincinnati police captain. "Addicted populations are linked together. They often use together, and sometimes they commit opportunistic crimes together to get the money they need for their drug."

The goal, officials say, is to try to stop overdoses before they happen.

"We're now able to notify some of the quick response teams and first responders in the area that there's an OD spike coming so that they can start doing outreach to their known addicted population and make sure they're prepared," Gerrard said.

Up next: Immediate access to detox programs

The work of expanded quick response teams and the analytics program are being paid for by a $400,000 federal grant that the county landed earlier this year to battle the opioid epidemic.

Later this month, officials expect to open the county's first "Engagement Center," which is a residential setting where people who have recently overdosed or who are ready for addiction treatment can begin the process.

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Patients will be referred to the center by quick response team members, emergency first responders or from local hospital emergency departments. Once at the center, patients can begin a medically managed detox program and the process of connecting with longer term treatment options.

The program is a partnership between Hamilton County's Mental Health and Recovery Services Board and the Talbert House.

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