COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The City of Columbus and Franklin county unveiled its new “Franklin County Opiate Action Plan” on Wednesday.
It was created by the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) with direction from county and city officials.
On Tuesday, the Franklin County Coroner said 173 people died from drug overdoses in the first four months of 2017. That’s a 66% increase from that same time frame in 2016. Officials today said change is coming and it starts with this action plan.
The plan focuses on four things: preventing opiate abuse and addiction, reducing the number of opiate-related deaths, expanding access for treatment, and improving the safety of our community.
Dr. Mysheika Roberts with Columbus Public health said this is a specific, action-oriented plan, one they haven’t seen since the opiate crisis began.
“It talks about a school-based prevention programs and it specifically talks about working with athletic coaches and trainers,” said Dr. Roberts. “It talks about needle disposal sites and making sure they’re in certain parts of town.”
She said 10 syringe disposal sites will be placed in areas of the city that need it most, which will also help mitigate the spread HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. There will also be drug take-back days in order to dispose un-used medication.
“Addiction is a disease of the brain, not a disease of one’s character,” said Dr. Roberts. “Our efforts in treating this must focus on that.”
Founder of the Loud Life Foundation David Sigal is a former addict, who started doing drugs when he was 12-years-old.
“It progressed from just trying an opiate to having a $200 a day habit,” he said. “I’m 210 pounds now. I was 120 pounds.”
Sigal helped collaborate with the ADAMH board on this action plan.
“I’m teaching Narcan training. I’m going to the jails. I’m seeing this first hand, so I feel like if everything gets distributed beautifully especially with the boots on the ground people, you will see action. You will see change,” he said.
Sigal said more treatment centers and after-care programs are key, which are part of the plan.
“Something needs to change and this action plan is truly amazing,” he said.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said this is the evidence-based, community-wide strategic plan that state and federal officials have been asking for.
“It is the greatest threat to family stability and neighborhood quality of life in this community,” he said. “It’s time for the state and federal government to step up and invest in this community.”
But, some families are frustrated, waiting for progress.
“Mostly likely I will have Ava until she’s 18-years-old,” said volunteer for The Addict’s Parents (TAP) Carlene Davis-Dale.
Davis-Dale is 62-years-old. She’s been raising her 8-year-old granddaughter, Ava Lok, since she was just 5 months old. Davis-Dale is one of the growing number of grandparents and relatives who are taking custody of addict family member’s children.
“Ava’s my life,” she said. “This is not what I had planned at my age. I took an early retirement, so I could be a stay at home, I guess ‘mom’.”
Lok’s father is in jail and her mother is in treatment.
“My dad and mom keep on struggling and struggling and I don’t want them to die,” said Lok.
She said she knows she’s not the only child going through this difficult time.
“I tell people I have to live with my grandma because of what happened and I’m not embarrassed to tell them,” she said. “They’re like, ‘But, why’? I’m like, “It’s just a problem that I can’t fix.'”
Davis-Dale said she’s glad to see an action plan rolling out from the county and city.
“Right now in Columbus, there are no detox beds available,” she said. “The rehabs are full, so where do we go from here?”
But, she said no matter what strategy is being put in place today, progress must be made.
“Is it another generation of addiction or do we solve that now versus having crisis in 18-20 years?” said Davis-Dale.
Click here for a full copy of the Franklin County Opiate Action Plan.