The headlines seem unavoidable: “How the Coronavirus is Creating Other Threats for Addicts” (Washington Post). Like you, I am painfully aware of the suffering in our community, which has experienced some of the greatest impacts of the national opioid crisis. Dozens of residents in Scioto County have died from opioid overdose over the past two years.People in Scioto County are struggling with opioid use disorder; frustratingly, it feels like a very complicated problem without a clear solution, now heightened under the pressures of the COVID pandemic I am writing to you with a message of hope amidst all of this bad news. There are treatments available for people with opioid use disorder and we know that they work. You may have heard of naloxone. Also known as the brand name, Narcan, it is a life-saving medication that can reverse an overdose and prevent death. As drugs have become contaminated with chemicals that increase the chances of overdose, the need for naloxone has also increased; people may not know they have taken a deadly dose until it’s too late. Emergency medical services personnel and other health care providers use naloxone as part of their jobs, but family members and friends of people with opioid use disorder can, too. People who use drugs should carry naloxone, and make sure that those around them know they have it, and should be prepared to reverse an overdose. For this reason, it is recommended not to use opioids when alone. Naloxone is pocket-sized and comes packaged in individual doses, ready to be administered quickly and easily. The lives that have been saved in Scioto County by naloxone are more than statistics; they are our community members and neighbors and families. Recent changes to the law mean that anyone in Ohio can get naloxone and learn how to use it, no prescription required, at most pharmacies. It is one of the rare medications that can almost instantly prevent a death, and yet many of the people who would benefit from it most still don’t have access to it. Besides effective treatment for overdose, there are medications that have been proven to protect against future overdoses, reduce cravings and help people with opioid use disorder achieve long-term recovery. These medications are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Strict regulations on who can prescribe them and where—as well as PURPOSE: This editorial is designed to introduce the campaign to communities and the significance of the study, especially naloxone. 26 stigma around drug use—may explain why nationally only 1 in 5 people with opioid use disorder are currently accessing them. Again, small communities like ours bear the weight of this statistic. We know that these treatments are effective in part because of research that has been conducted over the last 25 years here in Ohio. Doctors, nurses, and scientists in and around Boston are studying opioid use disorder and developing the best treatments for this complex disease. And it is because of this ground-breaking work that Ohio was one of four states chosen by the National Institutes of Health for a first-of-its kind research project to bring proven medications and new programs to certain highly impacted communities across the state to learn which approaches work best in communities like ours. Which brings me to some good news. As residents of Scioto County, we have been selected to participate in this program, called the HEALing Communities Study. This means that life-saving treatments, including these important medications, will soon be more readily available in our community. One reason that we don’t already have enough of these treatments in Scioto County is because the programs and staff required to deliver them are expensive: staff training and individualized treatments take time and resources, especially in the beginning. The budgets of our community health centers and hospitals are already stretched thin. Participating in this research study means that much-needed funding will be provided to local coalitions, which will select and establish effective treatments and programs in our community. In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing more information about the HEALing Communities Study and how you or your loved ones can participate. Meanwhile, you
can learn more at HealTogetherOH.org/Scioto. I am hopeful that our community can recover from this crisis by supporting those who need our help with the tools that can provide it. Today we can make a positive step advancing that process.
This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper
Belinda Leslie, BSBA, PHR Administrator Portsmouth City Health Department and Dr. Rebecca Jackson MD, Principal Investigator of the HEALing Communities Study, Ohio.