This year drug deaths in Dayton, Ohio are down by 54% compared to last year. A manufacturing center at the junction of two major interstates, Dayton had one of the highest opioid overdose death rates in the U.S. in 2017. For the first time in years the number of opioid deaths nationwide have begun to decline according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
What has changed?
Ohio Governor John Kasich is receiving a lot of the credit for expanding Medicaid, giving nearly 700,000 low-income adults access to free addiction and mental health treatment. This includes a dozen new residential and outpatient clinics that provide counseling as well as dispense methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone (Narcan), the three medications approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction.
Starting in 2014, Dayton’s police chief, Richard Biehl directed all his officers to carry Narcan, the medication, if administered quickly enough by nasal spray or injection, reverses opioid overdoses. “We really jumped on it because we saw it as absolutely consistent with our public mission to save lives,” said Chief Biehl. Recovering from an overdose gives a person the chance to get connected to services and Dayton is investing heavily in peer support—training people far enough along in their own recovery to work as coaches or mentors for addicts who are trying to stop using. One such person, Joshua Lewis, 37, has managed to stay alive long enough to benefit from recovery supports. He is training now to become a peer counselor and sees how the landscape is changing: “There are more addicts coming out of the shadows,” he said. “The stigma’s being broke.”
Law enforcement and public health representatives work together on a Two-year-old Community Overdose Action Team, sharing data and strategizing with dozens of local organizations, including the city’s needle exchange program. Research shows that such programs which allow people who inject drugs to trade dirty needles for clean ones, prevents deaths related to infections like HIV, hepatitis C, and endocarditis. The needle exchanges which are open once/week also help clients sign up for Medicaid and make connections to addiction treatment. The success in Dayton shows how communities working together with an approach focused on empathy, saving lives and healing the disease of addiction rather than incarcerating those who suffer with it can turn the tide on an epidemic. Other cities and states need to follow Dayton’s approach.
For more information, please read “Why Drug Deaths Are Down in an Opioid City”