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New Orleans mayor: Dayton area could teach others on opioid response

The rest of the country could learn from the local response to the opioid crisis, the mayor of New Orleans said to a group of officials from the Dayton area and around Ohio.

The mayor gathered with local leaders at CareSource on Tuesday afternoon to share best practices and hear about what Ohio officials have learned while trying to respond to the public health crisis.

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The opioid crisis was a driver of the 566 accidental overdose deaths recorded in Montgomery County last year.

As heroin, fentanyl and other similar drugs continue to claim lives, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, also president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, told attendees at the round table discussion that they could help the rest of the country by sharing what they know.

“Let us share your best practices with the other mayors around America,” said Landrieu.

Some of the leaders in attendance included Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Kettering Mayor Don Patterson, Middletown Mayor Larry Milligan, Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik, Montgomery County officials and CareSource staff.

The wide-ranging discussion focused on how local leaders are often at the forefront of searching for solutions.

Whaley said praised the Community Overdose Action Team for its work. COAT is a collaborative effort to prevent drug overdoses and reduce the number of people addicted, and Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services and Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County are lead agencies.

“We don’t have it figured out for sure, but I do think the solution will come from here,” Whaley said.

Jonas Thom, vice president of of behavioral health at ‎CareSource Management Group, said one of the challenges is that there haven’t been the same improvements in substance abuse care that there have been in other fields like the innovations year-over-year in cardiac care.

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“With substance abuse we’re going from ‘terrible’ to ‘acceptable.’ Getting yelled at in church basements is not treatment. And yet it’s a huge part of our treatment array,” Thom said.

Thom said in Dayton, local leaders don’t have a treatment system they can mimic, but instead find themselves on the front end of figuring out what works.

One of the recurring conclusions brought up by attendees was an emphasis on treating addiction like a disease that can be treated and not as a crime or moral failing.

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“My hope is that we become the community that learns to treat addiction like the disease that it is,” Whaley said.

Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, also co-chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, said cities can’t jail their way out of the crisis. He said the response needs to be primarily treating addiction as a public health issue, diverting people into treatment.

“What we’re using jail for now as a cop is to save someone’s life, because we don’t want them to overdose again. So we take them to jail but there’s no service on the back end, so what we’re trying to do is work that treatment into the jail system,” he said.

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