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Operation Second Chance to focus on treatment for area opiate addicts

by Marsha McKenna | stow sentry Senior Editor Published: August 14, 2016 12:00 AM

Stow -- Fact: Stow Safety Forces have administered Narcan 21 times since December when they began using it on drug overdose calls.

Fact: In six of those cases, the individuals could not be revived.

Fact: In Summit County, Narcan has been used on overdose victims 323 times since Jan. 1.

In response to the ever-increasing number of opiate overdoses in the city, the Stow Police and Fire departments are working with the Community Health Center to offer Operation Second Chance. Its "ultimate goal" is reducing the number of people addicted to opiates within Stow and Munroe Falls.

"Operation Second Chance is formalizing what our first responders already do, and adding resources that will connect people with the help they need once the initial 'emergency' is over," says Police Chief Jeff Film of the program, the first of its kind in Summit County.

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The Community Health Center, located in Akron, is a private, not-for profit 501(c) (3) that has been providing a "comprehensive array of treatment, prevention and housing services for addictive and compulsive behaviors and disorders" since 1974.

"We reached out to see what we could do . . . something more than just saying users need to stop using," says Film.

With Operation Second Chance's ultimate goal of reducing the number of individuals addicted to opiates within the community, Mayor Sara Kline calls it "one more puzzle piece" in connecting people with the help they need.

"Most importantly, we want our citizens to be safe and healthy. If a person does not know where to turn, we are now equipped to connect them with the resources they need," says Kline.

How Operation Second Chance is implemented

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Janet Wagner, chief operating officer of the Community Health Center, explains how Operation Second Chance will work: When a drug-related incident is encountered by first responders, treatment information will be provided to the individual and a CHC case manager will be notified and respond within an hour. Through a meeting with the individual, the CHC will offer intervention and treatment services, including transportation to the Akron location.

"We will try to engage the individual so they will want to go to treatment," says Wagner, offering a "warm hand-off" for treatment.

The CHC will be working from an office in its Peachtree Estates facility on Wyoga Lake Road in Cuyahoga Falls.

"As a resident of Stow, I recognize our city is far enough away from Akron that it can be a barrier to people seeking treatment. This partnership will allow us to directly connect individuals in crisis with the treatment services they need in a more expedient manner," adds Janet D'Antonio, board president of CHC.

Robert Stokes, CHC's chief executive officer, agrees, saying "They do better in treatment when you get them as soon as you can in the door and start that treatment."

Films says the program is set "to go live" on Sept. 1, after officers have received the necessary training.

Operation Second Chance also strives to reduce the stigma associated with opiate addiction. Film say the City Center and all fire and police departments will be open to Stow citizens wishing to disclose they have a drug problem, turn in drug paraphernalia, and/or seek help without the fear of arrest.

This program goes along with legislation, known as a "Good Samaritan law," approved by the Ohio Legislature and set to go into effect in September. Part of House Bill 110 would provide immunity from arrest, prosecution or conviction for a minor drug possession offense when a person "seeks or obtains medical assistance for self or another person who is experiencing a drug overdose."

Film says the mandate would focus on treatment rather than sentencing, adding there is "no place to send misdemeanors" in the overcrowded jails and prisons.

"We can't just arrest our way out of this," says Kline.

Increase seen in need for services

The CHC reports experiencing a 40 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for opiate addiction. Stokes says the CHC has "the most comprehensive addiction treatment services in Summit County," including outpatient, medical and residential programs. "We believe we are in a good position to provide many of the services people will need."

There will be times CHC will also have an engagement counselor at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, says Wagner.

"Many believe it's a teen issue when in reality, it's an adult issue," Kline says, adding that it's important to work with teenagers "when they're a captive audience."

Film says the average age of individuals who overdose is 20 to 35 years of age. "When we see them, they're usually at their lowest," he said.

According to Stokes, the 20 to 30 age group comprises 55 percent of those served by the agency.

And while the average age is 37 of those being treated, "we are providing services for some senior citizens . . . it truly reaches everybody," he notes.

The CHC will track how many referrals come in for treatment, he says.

"Once we see how this partnership works with Stow, we will explore offering this service to other municipalities. Anything we can do to increase someone's chances of entering treatment we are going to do," says D'Antonio.

"It's not a cure-all by any means," she adds, "it won't be an overnight thing."

"This program will be a success if we save even one life, but I am sure we will help many more," says D'Antonio.

Email: mmckenna@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9430

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