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News : Hotline Heating Up
Toledo, OH, USA, May 12, 2015 -- Members of a new Lucas County drug prevention and treatment coalition have agreed to develop an addiction hot line, as well as an ambulatory detoxification program.
Both are urgently needed, as the region wrestles with an addiction epidemic that kills three people a week. An estimated 10,000 people in the Toledo area are addicted to opioids, including heroin.
The Lucas County Coalition, which includes attorneys, treatment providers, judges, and law enforcement officials, has correctly identified two major problems: a lack of treatment capacity, and a dearth of information about where to get treatment. Coalition members are on the right track, and they can’t let petty differences slow their life-saving work.
This region lacks inpatient treatment beds partly because of an outdated federal law — the institution for mental diseases (IMD) exclusion — that bans Medicaid reimbursement to providers with more than 16 beds. A mobile-detox program would expand capacity by enabling addicts to detoxify at home, with help from visiting nurses, counselors, and peer mentors.
A 25-year-old recovering heroin addict from Toledo told The Blade’s editorial page that without intervention by the DART (Drug Abuse Response Team) unit run by the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, he would have had to wait weeks to get into a detox program.
"When addicts ask for help, they need it now," he said. "Otherwise, they’re going to go back out and get high or die."
He also said he had never heard of the 211 information and referral line run by the United Way of Greater Toledo. In any case, the 211 line appears to offer little help to addicts who need immediate access to treatment services.
Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Stacy Cook, a coalition member and leading advocate of an adult felony drug court, said she called the 211 number as a test. The operator, she said, seemed to read from a cue card and had no understanding of addiction.
The region needs an addiction hot line, staffed by well-trained operators with real-time information about what local treatment options are available. Desperate addicts who call such a line need immediate access to direct services. A delay of one day — even one hour — can mean the difference between life and death.
Before the new hot line starts, however, coalition members must resolve a dispute over whether the line should deal strictly with addiction or also include mental illness. The easiest solution might be to call it a recovery line.
The new line would need to be well publicized — through public service announcements and billboards, as well as leaflets and posters at schools, colleges, businesses, bars, restaurants, shelters, factories, bus stations, and other spots. Promotions for the new line could target the groups the coalition seeks to reach.
Far more important than what the line is called, however, is whether it will prove effective in getting people into treatment immediately. If it is not, word will quickly spread on the street and the hot line will lose credibility.
Coalition members will need to figure out how the new line will operate. County Sheriff John Tharp said the hot line could run through his 911 call center. Those operators would, of course, need additional information and training, but they would have a direct link to the sheriff’s DART unit, which could provide assistance immediately.
The Lucas County Coalition has many legitimate problems to work out in developing an ambulatory detox program and recovery hot line. What to call the new information line should not be one of them. With three people dying a week in this region from opioid addiction, the group must resolve this issue immediately and move forward with its life-saving work.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Thursday, May 14, 2015