May 15, 2015

How the Opiate Task Force took root

Opiate Task Force 2BATAVIA, Ohio (May 15, 2015) — In June 2013, the Clermont County Opiate Task Force had its first meeting. Almost two years later, the group is convening a summit on May 26 at UC Clermont that will shine a spotlight on the task force, what is has accomplished and where it is going in fighting the heroin and opiate addiction epidemic in our county.

Getting there has taken hard work, perseverance and, most of all, a dedication to common goals and the common good among a diverse group of stakeholders.

And they are diverse. Members come from all kinds of Clermont County public entities – the Commissioners’ office, the Sheriff’s Office,  the Courts, Adult Probation, Mental Health and Recovery Board (MHRB), Public Health, Veterans Services Commission, Union Township, Miami Township – as well the Chamber of Commerce, the Clermont Recovery Center, the medical community, and family and friends affected by addiction.

The Opiate Task Force launched in 2013 with $7,500 in grant funding from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services – one of 11 task forces created throughout the state in counties identified as “hot spots” for opiate abuse and overdose, said Karen Scherra, Executive Director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board. “We had been talking about starting a group focused on the opiate epidemic, but the funding, and the reporting that was required, gave us the impetus to get things moving,” Karen said.

“Usually engaging community members in coalition work can be difficult,” she continued.  “The majority of stakeholders contacted for involvement in the Opiate Task Force recognized the huge problem we were facing and were happy to join the effort.”

The Task Force meets monthly; the meetings often focus on sharing information about the epidemic — from new court programs to what is going on at the legislative level to addicts sharing their stories. It is chaired by Union Township Police Chief Scott Gaviglia and Lee Ann Watson, Associate Director of the MHRB.  Task Force members have also been working on growing awareness of the issue in the community through various activities, and developing its action plan to be publicly unveiled on May 26.

“It is often more difficult to keep stakeholders engaged in the process.  We have been successful at doing that by continuing to reach out to members that aren’t attending on a regular basis,” said Lee Ann.  “Also, members seem to be interested in the topics for the meetings and even if they are involved in some way in the system, they are learning new things and gaining greater understanding of the issue. And this isn’t a ‘sit around and complain’ group – we are committed to taking action to address the various aspects of the opiate problem.  People seem to want to be a part of that.”

As it gears up for its May 26 summit, the Opiate Task Force can point to a number of accomplishments, thanks to the thousands of hours spent by its members educating themselves, analyzing gaps  in the community’s resources in dealing with the fallout from the spread of cheap heroin,  and starting to fill in those resources. Among the accomplishments:

• Developing and distributing handouts on the issue and on preventing overdose deaths
• Designing and placing a billboard in Milford and signs on CTC buses linking people to help
• Organizing Town Hall meetings in local communities
• Developing a countywide treatment guide
• Obtaining Narcan kits for law enforcement officers so that they can administer the drug when they are responding to an overdose
• Advocating for medication-assisted treatment of addicts, and helping to obtain funding for that

As for the May 26 summit, Karen and Lee Ann hope it will spark “awareness of the issue.  Awareness of the treatment resources.  Involvement of the community in the taskforce.  Actually accomplishing some of the goals in the Action Plan and making progress in others.”

(Join the Opiate Task Force from 6-8:30 p.m. May 26 to learn more about how you can help on this vital issue. The event will be held at UC Clermont’s Student Activities Center, 4200 Clermont College Drive, Batavia. For more information, call 513-732-5400.)

More about the May 26 summit

(Photo: Opiate Task Force members from left: Angela Livesay, Juvenile Court; Union Township Police Chief Scott Gaviglia; Lee Ann Watson of MHRB, and Michelle Lydenberg of Clermont County Public Health.)

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