LOGAN — More than a dozen Hocking County residents died from confirmed drug overdoses in 2021, giving the county one of the highest overdose death rates in the state last year and breaking its previous record from the past decade, according to drug policy nonprofit Harm Reduction Ohio.

People and statistics

According to information provided by the Hocking County Health Department, 15 Hocking County residents have been confirmed to have died from drug intoxications in 2021. Five coroner cases (from June, November and December) are still pending.

Last year broke the previous Hocking County record for deaths caused by unintentional drug overdoses. According to 2020 Ohio Department of Health (ODH) data, 11 Hocking County residents died from drug overdoses in 2018 – previously, the highest amount. Numbers vary year to year since 2011; in 2011, seven people died from drug overdoses while in 2020 only four died from drug overdoses.

Most Hocking County residents who died by drug overdose in 2021 were men (only three women), ages ranging from 22–65. Not all deaths occurred in the county, though a little more than half (eight) died in the city of Logan. Many of the 15 had fentanyl in their systems, as well as methamphetamine.

Harm Reduction Ohio President Dennis Cauchon said in a Dec. 29 email that Hocking County ranks tenth “among Ohio’s 88 counties in its overdose death rate” per 2021 ODH data thus far; and fifth in the state’s meth overdose rate. Harm Reduction Ohio also lists neighboring Perry, Ross and Vinton counties as those with some of the state’s highest overdose death rates.

The year 2020 surpassed 2017 as the highest year for unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio, according to the ODH, with 5,017 deaths and an age-adjusted rate of 45.6 deaths per 100,000 population – a 3% increase over 2017 and a 25% increase over 2019. As 2021 data is preliminary, it can not yet be fully compared (coroners have six months to complete investigations and death certificates).

Resources

Resources exist in and around Hocking County for people with substance use disorders.

Kelly Gallagan, a peer recovery supervisor and licensed chemical dependency counselor (LCDC) at Treatment Alternatives to Street Crime of Southeast Ohio, or TASC, said her organization provides outpatient services for people in six counties across the region.

TASC, 12877 Grey St., receives clients referred by Hocking County drug courts, Gallagan said. She estimated TASC has about 150 clients in Hocking County. But people can self-refer to TASC, too, Gallagan said.

All people seeking assistance from TASC undergo about the same process, she explained. First, they undergo an assessment that covers “all domains of life,” Gallagan said – mental and physical health, spirituality, family history, abuse and trauma.

Following the assessment, if individuals are found eligible – meaning they receive a diagnosis of mild, moderate or severe substance use disorders – TASC will tailor-fit a treatment plan for them, Gallagan went on.

Treatment options vary from counseling to case management, to intensive outpatient care and crisis intervention, to transportation to helping people obtain drivers licenses or GEDs. TASC works with a network of outside agencies, Gallagan said.

TASC typically provides a six-month program, though time spent in the program varies on an individual basis. Factors like lack of support, unaccommodating environments and safety can inhibit someone from completing the program at a faster pace.

“If not they’re not making progress or if there’s been a relapse, (we) don’t want to let (them) go until (it’s) safe,” she said.

Gallagan also works with county Project HOPE (Hocking Overdose Partnership Endeavor), which works directly with people who have overdosed. It began about five years ago and is funded by a grant, she said.

Project HOPE uses 911 logs and monitors when people are being treated for overdoses at the hospital, where Project HOPE and Hocking County Sheriff’s Deputy Lynetta Lyon works.

There, Lyon asks people at the hospital who have overdosed if they would like help from agencies like TASC or Hopewell Health Centers, or if they would like to receive a welfare check after their hospital stay.

“We kind of intervene there,” Gallagan said.

Gallagan and Lyon will sometimes go directly to people’s houses, she said. “We go in a non-threatening way. We have Project HOPE shirts, Deputy Lyon’s dressed in her uniform. For the most part we don’t go in a cruiser. But we go to their house... and ask if they would like help. (We say,) ‘We know you overdosed and we’re here to help you through that.”

If people don’t want Project HOPE services, Gallagan and Lyon leave. Gallagan stressed that “we’re not there to put them in jail, we’re not there to get them in trouble. We’re here to help. (We say), ‘What can we do for you?”

If they do want help, Gallagan will make arrangements for people’s recovery on the spot. “I’ve sat right there and made the phone calls for them,” she said. “Sometimes we sit with them for a long time.”

Gallagan said those interested in contacting Project HOPE should do so via the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office at (740) 385-2131. TASC can be reached at (740) 380-1714.

The Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board, or the 317 Board LINK, 7990 Dairy Lane, Athens, serves three counties and like TASC, utilizes local resources and outside agencies to provide necessary care to those who need it. TASC meets with the 317 Board monthly, Gallagan added.

The 317 Board, which receives tax dollars through levies (about 20% of its budget), doesn’t provide direct services to people with substance use disorders, but rather helps agencies with funding and coordination, said Marissa McDaid, 317 Board communications and community engagement specialist

“We have (the) statutory duty to kind of just (oversee) that in our area — kind of pointing people in the right direction,” McDaid said.

317 Board Deputy Director Svea Maxwell said that though it doesn’t work with clients, “We will give anyone the information to contact any of our agencies to get an assessment.” It can be reached at (740) 593-3177.

All of the agencies the 317 Board works with are multi-county, too, Maxwell said. It also works with agencies like each county’s Jobs and Family Services offices. “That’s one of our additional roles, to really make sure that everybody’s aware of what the resources are, how to connect clients and make sure that needs are being met.”

Gallagan said Hocking County is fortunate in how its agencies assist people with substance use disorders.

“This community really is blessed in that we have law enforcement and we have judges who respect treatment and they work accordingly,” Gallagan said. “Some people do need to go to jail, but for the most part they work with treatment providers. They listen to the professionals and they’ve been very fair with – we’re not going to arrest this problem away.”

Stopping overdoses

According to ODH data for emergency department visits for suspected drug overdoses, there were 32 in Hocking County in the fourth quarter of 2020 — beating the previous record (31) held in 2017 (data listed since 2016 for ages 11 and up). Last year’s data is not yet available.

Naloxone nasal spray, commonly referred to as NARCAN, is available for free through multiple local and state agencies. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), naloxone is “a life-saving medication that can temporarily stop or reverse the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose.” (NARCAN is the brand name of the device used to deliver naloxone.)

Naloxone can be obtained at the Hocking County Health Department, 350 State Route 664 N., through the ODH’s program Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone), “a network of opioid overdose education and naloxone distribution programs.”

Health department Public Health Nurse Kahla Cosper explained the process for getting naloxone from the health department in a voicemail: “You just have to come over to the health department and let us know you need some naloxone and we have a little questionnaire we have you fill out and then you can get your naloxone. We go over a little bit of education to make sure that people know that it does expire; not to keep it in too hot or too cold (of) temperatures, (that) kind of thing. And then we make sure that they know how to use it and call 911 at the end.”

The health department is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m.–4 p.m. and can be reached at (740) 385-3030. Naloxone is also available online by mail through these agencies, per the ODH:

  • Erie County Health Department,
  • Family Recovery Center,
  • Homeless Hookup Cleveland,
  • Lorain County Public Health,
  • Tuscarawas County Health Department,

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