By Tammy Watts
GREENVILLE — The HEALing Communities Study (HCS) celebrated its success with a luncheon held at Radiant Lighthouse Church, presented by the Coalition for a Healthy Darke County on Friday, June 24.
HCS is an initiative by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the goal of which is to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 40 percent, over the course of three years. Since October 2019, when the study began in Darke County, more than 150 Narcan kits have been distributed, over 90 individuals chose to start Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) while incarcerated, and 200-plus rides have been given to those seeking treatment for substance use disorders. Additionally, $870,000 in grants have been spent on local interventions from January 2020 to June 2022, which include recovery housing, expansion of treatment options, housing and gas vouchers for individuals in treatment, a full-time community health worker, and a full-time counselor and case manager.
The Photovoice project was a centerpiece of the celebration. Eight Darke County women currently in recovery, took pictures illustrating either a barrier or facilitator, to their progress. One photo of a motel sign represented the stigma faced by people in recovery: landlords are reluctant to rent, forcing individuals to live in areas where drugs are rampant, thus perpetuating the cycle. Another photo of a budding tree after a harsh winter, was a metaphor for the recovery journey.
“These amazing women have been so open, and so willing to share,” said Amy Farmer, Ohio State University (OSU) Community Engagement Facilitator, and part of the HCS Field Team.
A series of panel discussions took place, facilitated by John Warner, Brethren Retirement Community CEO. Participants included Darke County Sheriff Mark Whittaker, Judge Jonathan P. Hein, Dr. Laurie White, Terri Becker, Executive Director of Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, along with several other community leaders and health care providers.
“In 2014, we had already started seeing trends that were very disturbing,” Sheriff Mark Whittaker said, of opioid overdoses and widespread misuse. “It’s not just a law enforcement problem, it’s a community problem.”
That realization led to the formation of the Coalition for a Healthy Darke County, which earned nonprofit organization 501(c)(3) status, in January 2016. Its existence allowed HCS to identify Darke County as a participant in wave one, of a two-wave study.
Brian Phillips, Assistant Chief of Greenville Township Emergency Medical Services, discussed the challenges his team faces when responding to an overdose victim.
“About 90 percent of drug overdose calls end in a refusal for further treatment,” he stated. “We may be the last healthcare providers they encounter.” Under the HCS initiative, EMS now leaves Narcan for overdose victims, along with counseling and rehabilitation resources.
“We try to build a rapport with the victim, and the family,” Phillips added. In 2019, first responders were having to perform CPR, and advanced airway procedures when they arrived on the scene of an overdose; after the “leave with Narcan” protocol started, the victim is often stable, or even talking, when first responders arrive. EMS personnel were also given stigma training, learning how the brain handles addiction.
Wes Lynch, pastor of Radiant Lighthouse Church, worked as a law enforcement officer for nine years in Indianapolis and Randolph County, before becoming a minister.
“I’ve never seen anyone able to fully recover without the help of a Higher Power,” he stated. Lynch added that the support of loved ones is instrumental, relating the success story of a local woman whose sister carried Narcan in her presence. The visual impact of seeing the lengths to which her family was going, in order to keep her safe, motivated her to seek treatment.
“She now works full time at Whirlpool, and has her own house,” Lynch said. For those who may not have such a support system, he advised, “We have to teach the community how to be the church.”
One of the biggest obstacles to recovery is lack of appropriate housing. HCS has funded Level III Recovery Housing for men in Darke County.
“The hardest thing is sitting with a patient that says they have nowhere to go after they leave the office,” said Dr. Anna Hatic, Director of Clinical Services, Family Health Services of Darke County.
“We have to move past the ‘those people’ mentality,” advised Judge Hein. “They are part of the community, and we all want a better community, else why are we here?”
For more information, visit www.coalitiondarkecounty.com, or www.healingcommunitiesstudy.org.
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected]