Tens of millions of dollars are spent in Montgomery County each year trying to rid the streets of drugs — and failing that — preventing opioid use and treating those addicted only to see overdose deaths climb.
Now the federal Drug Enforcement Administration wants to see if another $500,000 spent primarily on relationship building, community outreach and public service announcements might help the community turn back an epidemic set to take 800 lives this year.
The “360 Degree Strategy” cracks down on dealers, but also helps curb the overprescribing of pain pills and places a greater emphasis on prevention efforts through community outreach.
“If drug enforcement is taking a prevention approach, which is not their historical role, how can we as community members … take a different approach?” said Emily Surico, program manager, at East End Community Services. “DEA 360 is bringing not only a local presence of support and awareness, it’s bringing federal resources, putting a federal light on the issue, which is huge.”
The DEA launched the program locally Thursday at the Boys and Girls Club of Dayton along with other federal, Dayton and Montgomery County authorities, as well as local treatment providers and community groups. The DEA already implemented the initiative in a handful of cities, including Louisville, Ky, Pittsburgh, Pa., Milwaukee, Wis. And St. Louis, Mo.
While the problem is unprecedented on a national scale, there was reason the DEA picked Dayton as a 2017 pilot city, said Timothy J. Plancon, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Detroit Field Division.
“Few communities have experienced and suffered from this epidemic as dramatically as Dayton, Montgomery County and the Miami Valley area,” he said. “Chances are most people here have been directly impacted.”
Bruce Langos, chairman of the Montgomery County Drug Free Coalition, said the additional resources will educate some and help others get treatment.
“The community outreach piece is really important, he said. “We can engage with awareness about the magnitude of the problem. But more importantly, help is available. We still hear that is the No. 1 issue when we’re out on our calls. People aren’t aware of all the services that are available.”
A concert featuring American Idol contestant Alexis Gomez is scheduled for Oct. 16 at the Nutter Center. The event will serve to educate the community about the opioid crisis and will include guest speakers.
Officials provided few other details Thursday on how the money would be distributed.
Rich Isaacson, a DEA special agent and spokesman, acknowledged $500,000 may not stretch far fighting a battle that’s been uphill since 2012.
“Maybe this influx of money and PR may run out in a year, but those relationships and partnerships are going to be strengthened and hopefully build on those looking forward,” he said.
Overdoses began increasing in 2012 and have “done nothing but escalate since,” said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. Overdose calls in the city through July of this year have more than doubled during the same period last year. During 2016, overdose calls numbered 1,371 in Dayton.
By the end of June, the coroner reported overdose deaths countywide had exceeded the 349 from last year and now number 437.
“There’s a human face behind every one of those numbers,” Surico said.