4/6/2018 3:44:00 PM Week of April 9-13 proclaimed a 'Week of Appreciation' for those battling opioid epidemic
In light of the countless hours spent by local service providers and first responders in the fight against the opioid epidemic, the week of April 9-13 has been proclaimed as a “Week of Appreciation.” Pictured above from the left following the passage of the proclamation are Holzer Health System Communications Coordinator, Karrie Davison; GJMBADAMHS Deputy Director, Angela Stowers; GJMBADAMHS Executive Director, Robin Harris; and Commissioners Paul Haller, Ed Armstrong and Jerry Hall. (Telegram Photo By Phillip Buffington)
The most recent meeting of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners was attended by Robin Harris and Angela Stowers, the respective Executive Director and Deputy Director of the Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (GJMBADAMHS), as well as Holzer Health System's Communications Coordinator, Karrie Davison.
These three women were present for the Tuesday morning, April 3 commissioners' meeting to not only address the responsibilities of the GJMBADAMHS and its recent partnership with Holzer, but also to give thanks to the numerous men and women in the tri-county area on the front lines of the fight against the ongoing opioid epidemic.
With regard to what purpose the GJMBADAMHS serves in the area, Harris explained the group is the governmental authority over behavioral health services for the three counties of Gallia, Jackson and Meigs. There are 50 such boards in Ohio, some covering as many as six counties, others covering just one.
It is the responsibility of these boards under Ohio Revised Code to take the biennial budget as it passes through the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and follow the guidelines set forth therein.
From there, the board receives funding from the state and subcontracts the necessary services to private, non-profit entities such as TASC, HRS, Hopewell, Warriors 4 Christ, and so on.
Harris further stated it is also the responsibility of these boards to ensure these service providers are adhering to state rules and regulations.
After addressing the various responsibilities of the GJMBADAMHS, Commissioner Paul Haller turned the topic to the opioid epidemic, asking Harris if headway is being made or if the effort is "treading water," in her opinion.
"Honestly, when it comes to the opioid epidemic, I don't even think we've reached the point of treading water," Harris said. "We are continuing to see the highest overdose death rates in the state and the highest suicide rates in the state. We've got quite a burden on the system right now."
In addition to this ongoing fight and the role the GJMBADAMHS plays in it, Tuesday's meeting was also about spreading awareness about the impact this fight is having on local first responders.
"We decided, even though it's wearing on all of us, it would be a nice gesture to say to everyone else in the county how much we appreciate what they're doing," Harris explained.
This extension of gratitude was put forth in the form of a proclamation which names the week of April 9-13 as a "Week of Appreciation" for the men and women facing this issue on a daily basis. The theme for this week is "Bringing help. Bringing hope. Thank you."
For the past several years, Harris said the GJMBADAMHS has been providing cross-training for area law enforcement agencies through the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). This training, she explained, is a total of 40 hours and deals with teaching law enforcement officers what to do when dealing with a mental health and/or substance abuse crisis.
Harris stated this is important, as police officers are often the first to arrive on scene for these types of situations. What's more, she said this program has helped to build "strong partnerships" between mental health providers and law enforcement.
Harris specifically mentioned the last training session held, which pertained to the use of Narcan in overdose victims. She said she could see "The frustration that those officers were expressing in having to save the same people over and over again."
"They look at me and ask, 'Why do you want me to keep doing this'?" Harris said. "That's a hard question to answer. I could say, as a parent, if it were my child caught in addiction, I would hope you would save her one more time; just once more."
Over the years, Harris said there have been instances of individuals being saved by Narcan on numerous occasions when "it finally clicks," and they seek the help they need. However, she said stories like those are not always the ones receiving the attention.
"Unfortunately, they aren't the majority right now," Harris said.
During Tuesday's discussion, Commissioner Ed Armstrong stated there is most likely not a family in any of the three counties that has not been affected by the opioid issue. To further that point, Harris shared that she actually lost her nephew last June to complications from drug abuse.
"I know that, where I stand, if I couldn't pull everything it took to get him into recovery, then I understand that probably no one else can either," she said. "It's difficult."
In addition to the strain on local service providers and first responders, Harris likewise spoke of the position in which county judges are often placed in this scenario. In short, she described these judges being faced with the responsibility they owe to the general public, while also trying to find the right solution to a particular offender's problem, be it drug court, jail time, treatment or a combination.
Despite the fact that stories regarding drug abuse are seemingly constant nowadays, Commissioner Jerry Hall opined that a majority of the general public fails to realize the severity of the problem, especially with regard to the number of people dying of overdoses.
"Everybody hears about the drug problem, but people don't know, really, how bad it is," Commissioner Hall stated.
Numbers have been tossed around recently, with as many as nine suspected drug overdoses said to have already occurred in Jackson County for 2018 and 10 in Meigs County. The problem is, however, that these numbers are difficult to keep entirely accurate, according to Harris, as some people may die from an apparent heart attack or brain aneurysm, though drug abuse is the root cause.
While Harris agrees it is important to keep the public apprised of statistics like these, she likewise addressed the importance of being mindful of the families that have lost loved ones to addiction. Much like with suicide, she said family members are left with the "stigma, shame and hurt of it." One part of the process, Harris said, is helping people understand that mental illness is not a "moral choice or a moral failure."
"The brain becomes sick just like any other organ in the body," she explained.
With both addiction and mental illness, Harris said society tends to want to place blame or fault somewhere, and though she does admit that bad decisions are often at the heart of the matter, there are also countless people that "started out with a legitimate prescription and never thought it would go there."