A new Athens-based task force is joining the growing fight against the opioid epidemic. The group, called Athens HOPE, (Halting Opioid abuse through Prevention and Education) seeks to educate young people, their parents and the community-at-large about the dangers of opioids as well as reduce the stigma surrounding addiction.
Started by Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP), the group is currently made up of 13 members from a variety of community organizations including the Athens City-County Health Department, Health Recovery Services, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital, CHSP and the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
According to the group’s founder, CHSP Director of College and Community Partnerships Rebecca Miller, the task force concept came out of CHSP’s Community Outreach Advisory Committee, which is charged with guiding the direction of the college’s community outreach and engagement efforts.
“The group felt this health issue was one of the most critical in our region and our state. With 2,500 opioid-related deaths statewide in 2015, we knew we wanted to do something and we felt that our college was in a position to make a difference since we house programs ranging from social work to nursing and physician assistant practice,” Miller said.
Athens City-County Health Commissioner Dr. James Gaskell says the actual number of deaths is probably even higher due to deaths from opioid-related complications outside of overdoses.
“Between two to five percent of intravenous drug users are infected with endocarditis each year and we expect to see a rise in heart infections due to the increase in heroin use,” Gaskell said.
Group member Regina Schwartz agreed, stating, “My brother passed away three months ago due to heart problems resulting from his IV drug use, but his death wasn’t categorized as an opioid death, it was classified as endocarditis,” she said. “The saddest thing is that he seemed to have finally beaten his addiction. If there had been more help available early in his battle he might have lived a long and happy life.”
The HOPE group has met three times so far and has already identified their first initiative: a fall 2017 event featuring Dreamland author, Sam Quinones.
The Quinones visit will be a two-day event on Oct. 11 and 12, featuring a free lecture on Oct. 11 at 12 p.m. The visit is being funded by the CHSP Grover Lecture Series and OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital.
As part of its commitment to fighting opioid abuse, CHSP is also planning to offer a new chemical dependency certificate program. The certificate will likely be available beginning spring semester 2018 and will help students gain a greater understanding of this complex and important issue.
Task force members include Dr. Tania Basta, CHSP, Social and Public Health; Terry Cluse-Tolar, CHSP, Social and Public Health; Dr. Cory Cronin, CHSP, Social and Public Health; Dr. James Gaskell, Athens City-County Health Commissioner; Dr. Joe Gay, Health Recovery Services; Tara Gilts, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital; Brittany Jarvis, OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital; Heather Harmon, CHSP, Social and Public Health; Rebecca Miller, CHSP, Community Outreach; Jack Pepper, Athens City-County Health Department; Regina Schwartz, CHSP, Communications; Molly Wales, Athens City Schools; Leanne Williams, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.