LOGAN — During a small meeting held in the Hocking County Emergency Medical Services building on state Route 664 North, the Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board officially recognized the work of local first responders and treatment providers in combating the recent drug and opioid epidemic.

“We will take a bit of time today to express our appreciation to everyone who is working with this opioid epidemic to keep people from dying of overdoses and get people into treatment so that, hopefully, we can turn the tables on this epidemic,” 317 Board Executive Director Earl Cecil said.

To do so, Cecil explained that the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities passed a resolution in late March to formally recognize and express gratitude for the first responders and individuals that work to provide treatment to affected individuals and their families, which the executive director read aloud.

“For those of you who are first responders, we sincerely appreciate what you do day in and day out,” Cecil remarked after reading. “And those who work at the next level, working with families and those addicted, we appreciate your work also.”

After reading the resolution and briefly thanking the individuals present, the executive director went on to share his own thoughts and understandings of the struggles first responders face when answering calls related to drug addiction through his children, who are first responders in Montgomery County.

“They share with me, sometimes, how frustrating it can be and how they can get discouraged. I keep reminding them that the treatment works and we can’t treat someone who’s dead,” Cecil stated. “I have to remind myself of that sometimes, especially when it comes to Narcan use. Treatment works, but we can’t treat a dead person.”

To emphasize that treatment can work, even after repeated administrations of Narcan to counteract an overdose, the 317 Board presented a video compilation of survivors and loved ones of survivors — as well as loved ones of victims of overdose — thanking first responders for giving them another chance at life.

“Don’t stop. Keep going,” one survivor in long-term recovery, Skylar, said. “You never know whose life you’re going to impact by giving them Narcan or the opportunity you’ll give to somebody. Myself, I was hit seven or eight times with Narcan, and I’m here today and it’s a beautiful life, so don’t stop.”

After showing their appreciation through a video and applause, Bill Dunlap, Deputy Director of the Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board, spoke briefly about how first responders and those treating individuals with addiction should take care of themselves, as well.

In addition to printed information sheets on “caring for the caregiver” and “the escalating health risks for opioid crisis emergency response teams”, first responders present were given purple hard drives with “Thank You” printed on them to take home.

The hard drives contained the video played during the gathering, as well as information on how to properly handle fentanyl and other tips on how first responders can take care of themselves to be the best help to others in a time of need.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like because you’re not only saving lives, but you’re seeing people die right in front of you, too. So, you need to take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else,” Dunlap instructed. “Get plenty of sleep, eat right, exercise, spend time with your family, and do all the things you enjoy doing as often as you can. And, if any time you feel like you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to the community.”

While the main purpose of the small event was to show appreciation for the local first responders, the 317 Board officials also took the opportunity to announce the launch of the Hocking Overdose Prevention Endeavor (HOPE), a partnership between the 317 Board, Hocking County Sheriff’s Office, Hopewell Health Centers, the Hocking County Health Department, and the Hocking County EMS.

“It’s a team we’ve developed to follow up with those who have overdosed, to follow up with them and try to get them into treatment,” Dunlap explained. “The first response agencies will be able to provide us with contact information, and Hopewell Health can connect someone to treatment in 24 hours; the key is that when someone is ready, you have to have treatment, and that’s what we’re hoping to do.

“We want to also get in touch with individuals that we know are addicted and try to get them into treatment before they overdose, so we’re very excited about his,” Dunlap continued. “And we hope that we can make an impact in this community and the main opioid issues.”

After the announcement of HOPE, Cecil once again took the microphone to present a handful of awards to the Hocking County EMS, which was accepted by Hocking County EMS Director Chief Scott Brooker.

“We know that often there are multiple law enforcement offices and fire departments in each county, so we decided that the EMS would represent all of the first responders to the public community,” Cecil said. “We will also get some certificates to the other agencies, as well.”

These awards included a certificate of appreciation from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a “Bringing Help, Bringing Hope. Thank You” resolution from the Athens-Hocking-Vinton 317 Board, a resolution signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich, and a $1,000 check for the Hocking County EMS to purchase additional Narcan.

“This is the first year we’ve done something like this and, personally, I think it’s long overdue,” Cecil remarked. “The discussion at the state board office was that we needed to do something to recognize the work that these individuals are doing to help their communities, so we picked a week and our local office decided to do it today. Next year, we might do something different — I know another county is holding a picnic — but we’ll see. I hope this is something we continue to do.”

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