Butler County recently received another large infusion of cash to help battle the opiate epidemic, but this time they’re targeting a different concern — rural areas.
The Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board secured a new two-year grant of almost $780,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to address some areas that previously haven’t been at the forefront of the fight.
“It includes prevention services, support for Quick Response Teams, addressing trauma for children of those who are addicted,” Executive Director Scott Rasmus said. “Focusing on the more rural areas or making sure we’re inclusive of the more rural areas of Butler County is a target of the grant.”
The Justice Department awarded $162 million in Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Site-Based Program grants to 35 communities nationwide. Almost $5 million — including $800,000 to Warren County and $494,638 to Dayton — went to seven Ohio jurisdictions.
The grant came through late last year, and the person hired to handle the grant programs on the board’s staff has been on the job for about a month.
“Obviously the incorporated areas are addressed and also make sure there is programming that supports the more rural areas of the county,” Rasmus said. “Obviously our staff member we hired, that’s part of her charter.”
Rasmus said some of the keys to targeting the outskirts in the county are going into the schools there to teach prevention and ensure Quick Response Teams are available in the outer townships. There are five QRTs in the county — the county’s, Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown and Oxford — and Rasmus said they will be emphasizing “whole county coverage” with the QRTs.
Highlighting the fact the epidemic hasn’t just hit big cities where drug use is commonplace, the problem is so pervasive in rural areas the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a whole section on its website dedicated to the issue.
According to the site in October 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rates of drug overdose deaths in rural areas was surpassing rates in urban areas. Additionally, a December 2017 survey by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that as many as 74 percent of farmers were directly impacted by the opioid crisis.
“The opioid epidemic is devastating to its victims and their families. It has a compounding ripple effect throughout communities, affecting quality of life, economic opportunity, and rural prosperity,” a note on the website reads. “No corner of our country has gone untouched by the opioid crisis, but the impact of this issue on small towns and rural places has been particularly significant.”
The QRTs are a hands-on approach that helps addicts directly. The county’s two largest cities launched heroin response teams in 2015. The teams target individuals who have overdosed and try to pull them into sobriety.
The effort was spearheaded by Jennifer Mason after her son Kyle Thompson overdosed in 2008. The teams include either a police officer or a paramedic and an addiction specialist. The teams visit people who have recently overdosed and offer to help them get clean.
Mason said the new infusion of money targeting rural areas is wonderful news, she said just because the number of overdoses in rural areas might not be as large — because the population isn’t — that doesn’t mean the problem isn’t real.
“I would love to see something out in the county coordinated through MHARS with this funding,” Mason said. “That would be great.”
Butler County Sheriff’s Office Chief Tony Dwyer said “statistically or percentage-wise the rural areas are getting hit as hard if not harder” by the epidemic.
Dwyer said they are seeing what the experts in the opiate addiction realm are saying, that addicts are now afriad of heroin because of the huge number of overdose deaths, so many are moving on to meth and other drugs.
“My feeling is over the years is you have addicts that all associate and people start to die or have these terrible side effects, and people tend to gravitate to a new high,” Dwyer said.
Another focus of the grant is helping victims of drug addicts, a program Middletown Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips has said is critical. Phillips has already been working with the Butler County Education Services Center, Butler County Children Services and school districts to provide trauma training.
“I’m looking at all the families that have been touched by opiates that are probably traumatized, especially the kids,” she said. “To me I feel like it’s really, really something we need to start touching on. I talk to a lot of school officials that say there’s a lot behavioral issues. It’s because (children) really don’t know what to do with all that fear, that trauma, that anger.”
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