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Turner, Plummer call for regional ‘drug czar’ candidates

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 7:00 PM
By: Chris Stewart - Staff Writer

Montgomery County’s sheriff and a Dayton congressman want local business leaders to suggest candidates to become a “Dayton Region Drug Czar.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said the drug czar position is needed to coordinate the region’s fight against an opioid epidemic.

“Clearly, what we’ve done has not been enough. Our community has been, up until now, working as many individual efforts without effective communication. The Dayton region needs a drug czar to help us work together and execute a well-organized, coordinated, and planned attack against this epidemic,” Turner said.

RELATED: Turner, Plummer want local ‘drug czar’ for opioid crisis response

Health officials in Montgomery County say headway is being made already using a united, community-wide approach with the expertise of dozens of organizations.

The effort, the Community Overdose Action Team, or COAT, launched last November. The primary backbone support of COAT includes representatives from Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County, Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board, the Dayton Police Department, Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and others with the courts and in emergency services and health care.

“We have a unified strategy, we have a coordinated approach and there are currently over 100 organizations throughout Montgomery County that are actively involved in this process,” Montgomery County Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper said at a monthly COAT meeting this week. “It is collective in its nature. It is collaborative. We are unified. And we are moving forward in a coordinated fashion.”

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Turner and Plummer wrote this week to Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, and Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition, for suggested drug czar candidates.

Their letter said that the goal is to identify someone who can “provide the organizational skills and expertise to transform our community response into a collaborative, region-wide, network of addiction services.”

Turner’s 10th Congressional District includes Greene County and the northern half of Fayette County, including Washington Court House, but about 3 in 4 constituents live in Montgomery County, where the opioid crisis has taken a greater toll.

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“Our system of care for those with addiction and mental health disorders is inconsistent and lacks a continuum of care that is consistent well-coordinated planned approach to this epidemic,” Plummer said.

The number of overdose deaths in Montgomery County dipped recently to 40 a month in July and August and to 35 in September after a high of 81 in May.

RELATED: Montgomery County OD crisis: ‘We are nowhere near achieving our goal’

As of Thursday, the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office reported 507 deaths this year. If the current pattern continues, overdose deaths would reach about 620 for the year — far surpassing last year’s total of 349 — but fewer than feared when deaths peaked during the early months of the year.

During 2016, Greene County recorded 44 overdose deaths and Fayette reported seven to the Ohio Department of Health.

The pattern of decreasing overdose deaths in Montgomery County may be attributed to an “all-of-the-above” strategy by COAT, Cooper said. The team is addressing all aspects of the epidemic, including prevention, removing illegal drugs from the street, enhancing naloxone distribution and needle exchanges while adding treatment and recovery housing capacity and building more community awareness, he said.

RELATED: Recovery housing key to reducing OD deaths, county group says

“But let’s be clear, we are not satisfied. We will never be content,” Cooper said. “And we will continue to move forward under this united structure to make sure that we continue to have those deaths decrease because that means fewer people are losing loved ones.”

When announcing the drug czar position last month, Turner said the position would be unpaid.

It’s unclear how a regional drug czar would function, but Helen Jones-Kelley, ADAMHS executive director, said it’s possible the COAT model could be scaled up to include other counties while avoiding duplication of efforts.

“One of the things that’s clear, is that we have a lot of resources in Montgomery County in comparison to some of our adjoining counties,” she said. “We may be ahead of the game in a number of ways, particularly in the way we’ve been able to bring our own collaborative together. I think other counties are looking to us for ideas and partnership opportunities.”