Drug overdoses and opioid misuse are a community health crisis nationwide. Addiction is a chronic disease that often goes untreated due to lack of resources and stigma. There are many causes of this epidemic that include overprescribing of opiates for pain and pharmaceutical companies minimizing the addictiveness of opiates. Families who have a history of drug and/or alcohol addiction are at a higher risk of becoming addicted.

Here locally, the Portage County Substance Abuse Community Coalition is unifying stakeholders to coordinate strategies that will lead to meaningful outcomes; especially fewer deaths, decrease in people becoming addicted, fewer children being removed from their homes, and decrease in crime and incarceration.

The coalition started as a committee of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Portage County in 2012 to oversee the development of a men’s residential facility. In the fall 2016, the coalition adopted its current name and opened itself to any individual, family member, organization, and agency that is dedicated to preventing and treating substance use disorders as well as advocating for funds and policies.

This past year, the coalition has been working to do the following:

— Worked collaboratively to apply for grant opportunities to secure funds to increase the availability of medication assisted treatment (e.g., Suboxone, Vivitrol), recovery housing, local medical withdrawal management services, and peer supporter specialists. Lack of funding is a continuous obstacle that we have faced locally.

— Developed an addiction resource guide for Portage County residents, available online.

— Distributed disposal pouches and dispersed information on our local drug disposal boxes to all the local pharmacies.

— Held many community drug awareness events around the county and are planning a conference for Oct. 31.

—Advocated about national, state and local issues that affect health care, including regularly contacts with elected officials about the need to continue Medicaid expansion.

— Distributed Narcan (naloxone) to the community through the Project DAWN program. Ensured that all police officers in the county are trained in Project DAWN and are carrying naloxone and that dispatchers have been trained.

— Supported our local Ohio Supreme Court Certified drug & mental health courts.

— Increased the drug prevention efforts with education in the schools, marketing campaigns, and awareness events. Education includes addressing stigma and viewing addiction as a medical rather than a legal or moral issue.

— Worked with our Portage Health District and the Community Health Improvement Plan to partner with primary care providers to screen for drug, alcohol and mental health problems to provide integrated health care.

— Focused on trauma-informed care as many individuals that develop addictions have unresolved trauma histories that include physical and sexual abuse.

The solutions to this opioid crisis require a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that must include prevention/education, treatment, recovery supports, and crisis interventions. We know that people need to be able to access a range of different treatment options to fit what works for them. Due to limited funds and scarce resources, communities must band together to enhance and increase their treatment options and availability.

For more information about the Coalition, feel free to contact me at the Mental Health & Recovery Board office at 330-673-1756.

Dr. Joel Mowrey is chair of the Portage Substance Abuse Community Coalition .