Substance abuse, addiction increasing

Abuse and addiction of alcohol and other drugs is a serious and growing concern in Washington County.

Data reported by local law enforcement agencies and emergency medical services squads illustrate the problem. Effective treatment options are not readily available for many county residents, or are inadequate for recovery from the abuse, addiction, or coexistent mental illness.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety, Office of Criminal Justice Services analyzed data reported by six of the seven law enforcement agencies in the county to the Ohio Incident-Based Reporting System. Lowell does not report data to this voluntary system. Officers specifically noted involvement of alcohol in 23.9 percent and drugs in 17.6 percent of all crimes reported in 2014, increases from 22.8 percent for alcohol and 13.5 percent for drugs in 2013.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Medical Services analyzed emergency runs reported by medical services squads in the county to the Ohio Emergency Medical Services Incident Reporting System. Emergencies included 31 alcohol-, 50 overdose-, and 70 mental health-related runs in 2014, increases from 9 alcohol-, 28 overdose-, and 18 mental health-related runs in 2013.

Reviews of scientific research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show treatment can help people to stop using drugs, avoid relapsing after treatment, and sustain healthy lifestyles. To be effective, treatment must be readily available, address multiple needs of the person, not just drug abuse, and be sustained for an adequate amount of time. Drug use must be monitored continuously to detect lapses during treatment. There should be follow-up after treatment to mitigate the risk of relapse. Family and community support can be crucial for the person to achieve and sustain successful functioning in the family, at work, and in society.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, historically over 8 percent of the national population aged 12 or older needs treatment, but does not receive it. If the national trend applies locally and based on the 2010 population census, over 4,000 persons in Washington County may need treatment, but are not receiving it. The 2015 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported Washington County has one mental health provider for every 1,426 residents, about half the Ohio overall average of one provider for every 716 residents. At least in part, a lack of available and adequate treatment may be a factor contributing to crime and medical emergencies, as well as other less tangible effects in the family, at work, and in society.

Treatment may involve the use of medications or behavior therapy, or both. Medications can ease withdrawal symptoms during detoxification, and help to reduce cravings and prevent a relapse by restoring normal brain function. Behavior therapy can help people to participate and remain in treatment, change their attitudes and behaviors, and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Generally, outpatient programs involve individual or group counseling or other specialized treatments in a clinic setting on a regular schedule. Inpatient programs offer a more intensive treatment regimen in a more controlled residential facility for people with more severe problems. Length of stay is less than 14 days in a crisis stabilization unit, and up to 90 days in shorter-term facilities or one to two years or more in longer-term facilities. Treatment programs within the criminal justice system can be effective, especially if treatment continues as the offender transitions back into the community. Again, family and community support can be crucial for the person to achieve and sustain a healthy lifestyle in the family, at work, and in society.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services licenses residential treatment facilities, which require a referral from a hospital, mental health agency, or practitioner. The facilities provide room and board and may also provide personal care services to one or more adults with mental illness or severe mental disability or children and adolescents with a serious emotional disturbance or in need of mental health services. They may provide mental health services directly or support delivery of services provided by a hospital, mental health agency, or practitioner.

The Ohio Long-term Care Consumer Guide lists 139 residential treatment facilities. Facilities closest to Washington County are crisis stabilization units in Athens (four beds) and Zanesville (eight beds) and other residential treatment facilities in Athens (four beds) and Cambridge (three facilities, 22 beds total). There is also a center in St. Clairsville for children and adolescents (100 beds). Because family and community supports are crucial for recovery, time and distance from home to facility should be minimal. Since Marietta Memorial Hospital closed its residential treatment program several years ago, county residents must now look elsewhere for inpatient recovery services. Consumers may call the Behavioral Health Board (740-374-6990) for information about outpatient and inpatient programs and facilities available to county residents.

James Raney is a volunteer appointed as a citizen consultant to the Public Information and Education Committee of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the last Saturday of the month.