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Heroin Coalition Moves Beyond Response With New Focus On Long-Term Recovery

Coalition Executive Chair Denise Driehaus speaks at an event at the Hamilton County Administration Building.
Ambriehl Crutchfield
Coalition Executive Chair Denise Driehaus speaks at an event at the Hamilton County Administration Building.

Last year, unintentional overdose deaths decreased 11% in Hamilton County. Now public officials are working together to tackle a more long-term issue: addiction.

What was the Heroin Coalition is now the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition, a mix of community organizations, public officials, faith and business leaders. While still focused on response, the taskforce is expanding its focus to long-term recovery.

Coalition Executive Chair Denise Driehaus says at first the county was focused on responding to a fast-moving epidemic. "We're now in a position where we are doing that work every day but there is also a strategic shift," she says. "Once we get to someone in long-term recovery, what are the supports needed for that individual to keep them in long-term recovery?"

She says the decrease in overdose deaths and funding from all levels of government is allowing them to create a strategic plan.

While the county did see a decrease overall, unintentional overdose deaths increased in men (from 71% to 73%) and in persons ages 50-64 (28% to 32%).

The coalition's business committee is working to expand recovery support services in communities like workforce development and housing. Public officials also say transportation is a need.

Village of Newtown Chief Tom Synan says as his police department has been working to deplete the supply of drugs, he also realized other factors impact the demand. "That they have the everyday basics we take for granted. We can't tackle any of this until that's taken care of," he says. "So you really transform your view of addiction and find out what it really is about is making sure people have the services."

According to Hamilton County Public Health, white people made up 75% of the overdose deaths from January to October of 2019, a 1% increase. Meanwhile, 24% of black people died due to an overdose, which is a 2% increase from 2018. Hispanic and non-Hispanics remained steady at 1%.

The county's health department has been reaching out to organizations like the Urban League to get its input on how it can improve its services and resources for black and Latinx communities. The organization isn't a part of the coalition, but one official says they should be at the table.

"This entire crisis so far has been focused on a very specific demographic with a very specific drug trend. It's been very hard to change that narrative," Hamilton County Assistance Health Commissioner Jennifer Mooney says. "So we are really trying to open that up and have the dialogue where people know they can be potentially at risk, even though they do not necessarily inject drugs."

The coalition claims success in distributing Deterra bags for safe medication disposal to local hospice organizations, launching a one-stop resource center and increasing beds at an engagement center.

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Ambriehl Crutchfield
Ambriehl is a general assignment reporter with interest in education and communities. She works to amplify underrepresented voices and advance daily news stories. She comes to WVXU with previous reporting experience at NPR member stations WBEZ in Chicago and WKYU in Bowling Green, Ky.