Susan M. Forgacs, RN, BSN, Public Health Nurse
Portage County Health Department
Deaths caused by heroin overdoses are on the rise in Portage County, OH. Since 2011, data from the coroner’s office indicate that 59 of 216 drug-related, accidental deaths were caused by heroin. Fentanyl is another drug-related cause of death, with 25 deaths in the county caused by fentanyl since mid-2014. Compared to the other 88 counties in Ohio, Portage County ranks 15th in number of deaths by heroin. The heroin-related deaths even exceeded fatalities caused by car accidents. The high number of deaths in Portage County reflect a state-wide trend. Of the 10,574 heroin overdoses that occurred in the United States in 2014, 1,177 deaths were in Ohio. In one eight-hour shift in 2016 in Ravenna City, the paramedics responded to eight overdoses.
The Portage County Health Department and the local Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) collaborated with the Portage County Police Chief Association, the University Hospital Portage Medical Center, and the Portage County Fire Chief Association to address the crisis. From these conversations, we launched the Portage County Heroin Education Program to combat heroin overdoses by training first responders in using naloxone, also known as NarcanTM. Narcan is an opiate antidote that can reverse an overdose. With money from NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Awards, the Portage County Health Department created 100 kits that contained two doses of Narcan and literature on drug rehabilitation information and medical and food resources in the county. MRC volunteers helped assemble the Narcan kits and promoted the program.
Before the project formally began, Ohio passed HB 170, allowing police officers and all EMTs to use Narcan, which helped improve the reach of the project. However, the surge in availability of Narcan resulted in a price increase that affected the volume of the purchase. Nonetheless, the Portage County Heroin Education Program trained over 300 people by January 2016. All of our fire department and county EMTs received the training as well as most of the police departments. Since trainings concluded, seven lives were saved by the NACCHO-funded Narcan kits. Additional grant money, the state health department, and the Portage County Mental Health and Recovery Board provided funding to replenish the contents of the Narcan kits in the future.
The Portage County Heroin Education Program occurred alongside Project Deaths Avoided with Naloxone Program (Project DAWN) in the community. The Portage Heroin Education Program developed kits for Project DAWN that contained the same materials, with the addition of a CD that reviewed the training for the utilization of Narcan. This collaboration with Project DAWN helped the project reach both civilians and first responders. The two projects also reinforced their shared mission and helped increase community awareness of the issue.
This intervention was successful because there was clear evidence of the need to address heroin overdoses as well as the commitment from the community. With financial support to continue to resupply Narcan, we hope to see a decrease in the number of opioid-related fatalities.
Learn more about NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Awards at http://nacchopreparedness.org/naccho-funds-167-innovative-community-projects-through-mrc-challenge-awards/.