Tonita Reifsteck (left) represents St. John’s Outreach Ministry Team - Sandy Meinershagen, chair; Jack & Nancy Leich, Lois Leonard, Dan Row, Suzanne Tockey, Lee Westerfield and Jim and Leslie Wilmert, who worked hard all year at fundraising.
Community wages cohesive comprehensive war on drugs in Logan County
By  Nila Smith

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[March 06, 2017]  Early in 2016 the Healthy Communities Partnership in Logan County set a new goal, to wage war on drug addiction in our community. More specifically, to reduce the number of opioid related drug addictions that exists in all age ranges.

Addiction to heroin is growing at a rapid pace throughout the country. The drug is highly addictive and easy to get hold of, plus it is cheap, making it easier for even those with meager means to obtain and use the drug.

The HCP began holding monthly meetings drawing participation from local schools and churches, law enforcement, medical professionals, and many others with an interest in curtailing drug use in our county.

The work began with adoption of a ‘Four Pillars’ approach. The four components: Prevention – Treatment - Enforcement - Harm reduction.

Now identified as the Heroin Task Force, the large group broke into four focus groups. Then groups began alternating meetings as small groups aiming at assessment, direction and action; then sharing with the larger group.

Because the heroin is active locally, the treatment and harm reduction pillars became a very important first step for Logan County.
Nadia Klekamp of Chestnut Health Systems shared some statistics on heroin:

  • Heroin use has increased significantly in the past few years, and it continues to rise.
  • The number of people who die from heroin-related overdoses in the United States is nearly four times what it was a decade ago.
  • Heroin use and overdose has increased significantly in Logan County over the past ten years.
  • Twenty-three percent of people who use heroin become dependent on it, making it the most addictive drug.

The Pillar group working through how to provide treatment for addiction realized their goal would have to be to not only treat the addict, but also save the life of the addict from a drug overdose.

A drug called Narcan can reverse the effects of heroin, and revive an overdose victim, if administered quickly.

To do this, the antidote drug would need to be made available to all first responders in Logan County.

The cost of the Narcan kits was identified as a barrier. While all agreed that the drug would save lives and was necessary, the funding to purchase the drug for first responders was not available. There was some state funding available for EMT’s, but there was no funding available to provide Narcan to police officers, who are often first on a scene.

The answer to that barrier would have to be community fundraising.

St. John United Church of Christ got involved with the Narcan fundraising when the heroin epidemic hit close to home for the church family. A couple in the church had a grandson die of a heroin overdose.

The couple had been particularly close to their grandson, playing a big role in his upbringing. When they learned that he had a drug addiction, they had done all that they could to help him through the process of getting clean. They had given love and support, and had seen to it that he got the treatments he needed, even to the point of being the ones to drive him to a detox facility.

The grandson did get clean for a time. One of the keys to staying clean for an addict is that the addict has to separate him or herself from the “old friends” who he or she did drugs with. For this young man, it was an occasion where he went to see some of his old friends, the drugs came out, he overdosed, was abandoned by his friends and he died.

If the police or an ambulance had been called, and if the drug had been available to administer, this could have been a life-saved, and a second chance for someone to recover and live a full life.

While this family was aware that the young man had an addiction problem, many families learn too late that their loved ones are involved in drugs. To have a counter measure that can save the life of an addict can bring the addiction out into the open. Then the family and other supporters have the opportunity to reach out to the drug user and offer their help and support.

St. John also found some valuable partners in their fundraising efforts.

ReNew Thrift and Consignment offers a fundraising program through in-store sales and agreed to ongoing fundraisers throughout the year for the Narcan Project.

Culver’s Restaurant in Lincoln has participated in regular fundraisers.

And, other organizations and businesses such as the Lincoln Rotary and Logan Lanes also have gotten involved.

By the end of 2016 the church and its many partners had raised just over $2,500 for the Narcan supply. The money was given to the Logan County Department of Public Health for the purchase of the kits specifically to be distributed to police officers.

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The use of Narcan is becoming more widely accepted, and many communities throughout the state are working to get the life-saving drug to first responders.

Within some of those areas, there is an argument that Narcan offers addicts a "free pass" in that they know they can get high because the EMT's or police officers will save them. That is not the way any one should look at this drug. Instead, reversing a deadly overdose needs to be seen as saving a life and giving a person a chance to get clean; that is what the first responders want; it is what the family of the addict wants, and hopefully, that will also be the end goal of the drug user as well.

In Lincoln, Police Chief Paul Adams and Lincoln Fire Chief Mark Miller say that they now have Narcan in the police squads as well as the EMT response vehicle at the fire department, and both departments have utilized the drugs to reverse overdoses in the last year; proving there is a need and the drug is effective.

Treatment and recovery

With a second chance before them, the next hurdle for a drug user is to choose to seek help. However, choosing to seek help and treatment for addiction comes with a new set of roadblocks.

In Logan County there are no treatment centers for addiction. Addicts have access to treatment centers through referrals from local authorities or medical professionals, but getting to the appropriate center can be the challenge.

The Heroin Task Force realized that another step to recovery where drug users need help is getting transportation to centers. To address this, the task force set out to raise money to pay transportation costs.

General Opioid Treatment Assistance Fund

The task force has established a fund that works through local police departments to get those seeking treatment for addiction to an appropriate facility. Expenses paid by the fund include purchasing gas cards for volunteers who are providing transportation to treatment facilities.

Once again, it was St. John UCC which was the first to step up to the plate and work to supply this need. The church partnering with the Lincoln Community High School National Honor Society and Culver's Restaurant in Lincoln held the first General Opioid Treatment Assistance Fundraiser on January 15th. At that first fundraiser the group raised approximately $200.

The Heroin Task Force and its working groups continue to meet on a regular basis. In addition to addressing treatment, the groups work to establish programs for prevention, enforcement, and harm reduction.

The prevention programs will include education for children and parents to stop early experimentation with drugs and alcohol. Because drug use is obviously illegal, local law enforcement agencies are working on a number of projects that are not for public knowledge, but the goal is to reduce the availability of the drug in our community, and to prosecute those who sell illegal drugs to our citizens.

While a great deal of money was raised for the Narcan kits, the kits are also quite expensive and the need for replenishment continues. Additional funding will be required for Narcan, as well as to support the General Opioid Treatment Assistance Fund.



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