County-formed opioid hub addressing drug crisis

The opioid crisis in Ohio has been more than a match for the resources available to counter it, and with that in mind the state created Opioid Hubs, a legislative mandate on counties to develop ways for a variety of service agencies to work together.

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board is the agency tasked with setting up the hub, and work began on it early in 2018, with meetings now taking place.

Hilles Hughes, deputy director of the board, said Tuesday the hub has established three subcommittees to help knit the efforts of several agencies, groups and individuals together cohesively.

“There are many, many people involved,” she said. “We had a meeting a week ago where everyone involved was invited, there were between 50 and 60 people there. It is a really robust group of community members who all have our best interests at heart, looking for what we can do to be a little more proactive.”

The group is seeking a strategic, collaborative system to help the hundreds of Washington County residents who every year look for a way out of opioid use disorder. It has established three subcommittees to work on education and prevention, treatment and workforce cooperation.

Flite Freimann, director of the county office of Ohio Job and Family Services, heads the workforce group. He said a significant part of the subcommittee’s work is to secure involvement of the business community and employers.

“One of the key areas is educating employers and educating ourselves about what they want and need,” he said. “We want to make sure that they know a recovering employee can be a great resource, not somebody who will put their business in jeopardy.”

Freimann said his group also is working with law enforcement and courts to try to get opioid disorder use sufferers who cross the law involved in Ohio Means Jobs listings earlier in the process.

“A person might be arrested, go through pretrial and get released,” he said. “At that point, we’d like for them to send that person to us, keep them invested in the community while they’re waiting.”

On the employer side, he said, the group hopes to provide businesses more information about the specifics of what hiring a person in recovery involves.

“We want employers to realize that these people need jobs, and provide more education about what that looks like for individual employers, that they understand it can be a mutually positive relationship,” he said. “Employers have a lot of options, and when they discover an arrest record for a job applicant they might not take a chance if they don’t have to. We’re not asking for charity, we just want them to take a second look.”

Freimann said the subcommittee has had meetings with the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, and another is coming up Feb. 8.

Fort Frye Local Schools superintendent Stephanie Starcher is heading the education and prevention subcommittee, and she said part of her passion as an educator is preparing children to manage traumatic events in their lives.

“Kids are more at risk if they aren’t resilient, if they don’t have coping strategies,” she said. “We’re asking how we teach them to manage adverse life situations. We feel like the traditional model, the order ‘Just don’t do this’ from an authority figure, doesn’t work.”

Starcher said part of it is a much more direct collaboration with service providers who deal with preschool age children.

“From birth to 5-year-olds, even prenatal, is a high priority area. We see kids with so many needs coming into kindergarten, and we need to address prenatal care, to get resources and information to families with pregnancies or young children. It’s kind of a package program,” she said.

“I was invited to participate in this, and it’s very relevant to my job as superintendent. Prevention and substance abuse problems are something we deal with in students and families,” she said. “In southeast Ohio, schools are an important part of communities, and we can’t do this without the schools.”

Dr. Dick Wittberg of the Washington County Health Department has been enlisted to consolidate the hub’s strategies and overall goals. Wittberg said he just last week volunteered for it.

“My thought is that you work with the different people involved to come up with a list of the highest needs, identify two or three or four things on that list that we need to make every effort to do over the next couple of years, and make sure it happens,” he said.

Freimann said he ultimately hopes to create a blueprint for recovery assistance that can be applied as people work their way through the system.

“My hope is for a real roadmap or template, saying an individual enters the system at this point with a substance abuse problem, and here is a map to get back to a productive life, here’s what we can do, step by step,” he said.

The meetings of the subcommittees are open to the public.

The treatment subcommittee will meet at 3 p.m. Monday at Life and Purpose, 207 Colegate Drive, Marietta. The education subcommittee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Marietta City Schools Administrative Building, 111 Academy Drive. The workforce subcommittee will meet at noon Feb. 8 at the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce Office, 100 Front St., Marietta.

The Opioid Hub Meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 11 at Gold Star Park, 801 Lancaster St., Marietta.

Washington County Opioid Hub

•Established: Spring 2018.

•First report to state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services: Jan. 1, 2020.

•Subcommittees established: Treatment, education and prevention, workforce.

Source: Washington County Behavorial Health Board.