What can we learn from Dayton’s fight to reduce opioid deaths?
According to reporting by the New York Times, the city of Dayton, Ohio had one of the highest overdose death rates in the country during 2017. In fact, there were so many overdose deaths that the coroner’s office ran out of space and had to rent refrigerated trailers. Drug overdoses took almost 550 lives in 2017 and something, anything, needed to be done to help reduce the number of senseless deaths.
The city took action and drastically reduced that rate. In fact, this year to date there have only been 250 deaths, or less than half as many. The approach has been sort of an “everything including the kitchen sink” effort and there are several key factors contributing to the promising decline.
The first factor started in 2015 when then Governor John Kasich bucked his own party and expanded his state’s Medicaid program, which, in turn, provided free addiction and mental health treatment to some 700,000 low income adults. This also expanded access to the FDA approved treatment medications for opioid addiction. Under Kasich’s leadership, Ohio has gone even further by continuing to provide regular addiction treatment to addicts who are incarcerated and have lost their Medicaid coverage.
A second factor are local programs like Conversations for Change, which holds meetings to provide a meal for addicts and give them the opportunity to meet providers and obtain access to information and materials on addiction treatment in a non-threatening environment.
A third factor is Dayton’s widespread use of the life saving drug (if administered quickly enough to those overdosing) naloxone (brand name Narcan). Not only has the Dayton police chief mandated that all his officers carry the drug, but it is also widely dispensed throughout the community. Area agencies routinely hold training sessions for use of the drug in area businesses, schools, and 12 step meetings.
A never-ending challenge for those just beginning addiction treatment is remaining in treatment. Dayton is working on improvements in this area as well with peer support programs that train those progressing through the recovery process to be mentors and coaches for those just entering treatment.
All of these efforts seem like common sense but it’s mind boggling how many other areas around the country are still clinging to the simplistic law and order approach, or doing little to stem the tide of addiction and overdose deaths other than paying lip service to offering help.
There’s plenty of time to debate and argue over the root causes of the addiction crisis from opiates “flowing across the boarders” to “big pharma” knowingly misleading providers about the dangers of over-prescribing, but the political posturing does nothing to help those on the front lines of this crisis. Let’s be less interested in politicians trying to score political points for their re-elections and spend more time and effort like Dayton, in actually saving lives in our communities by any and all means possible, regardless of the politics of the day. With this approach, we all win.