Unintentional drug overdose deaths in Montgomery County for 2017 now stand at 499. The numbers were released during a monthly update from Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County, and Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) on Thursday.
In September there were 33 accidental drug overdoses logged by the county. Those deaths have been trending downward since a spike in May when there were 80 deaths recorded.
Public Health Commissioner Jeff Cooper says despite the decrease, local health agencies will continue to fight the epidemic.
“We are investing in controlling illegal supply on the street, enhancing our prevention efforts, expanding the distribution of naloxone, as well as expanding our syringe services programs,” said Cooper.
The health agencies are also expanding addiction treatment through various rehabilitation programs.
Cooper says the lower numbers are likely a result of the availability of the anti-overdose medication naloxone, but he also thinks prevention and addiction treatment programs are working.
The efforts are a part of the Community Overdose Action Team. The community-wide program was established last year to address the opioid epidemic in Montgomery County.
Since then, more than 100 health and social services agencies in Montgomery County have joined the program.
ADAMHS Executive Director, Helen-Jones-Kelley, says a decrease in the stigma of addiction is also playing a role in reducing the number of accidental deaths.
“People are talking more openly,” she says. “If people share their stories, then other people are paying attention to that. It takes the mystery out and we begin to share ideas around resources, who are we using as treatment providers, and it takes some of that isolation away so that we can see more people come forward to access services.”
Jones-Kelley also emphasized the importance of recovery housing in addiction.
The county currently has seven recovery housing programs with nine locations. The facilties have bed-capacity for 30 women and 25 men over the age of 18 who have demonstrated commitment to recovery-oriented lifestyle.
At the meeting, she introduced several individuals who are going through treatment and after-care in the housing treatment programs.
33 year-old Cory Kabara of Lima says he came to Dayton more than a year ago to find sobriety. The recovering heroin addict and alcoholic spent nine months in a Salvation Army treatment program, after which, he says he “wanted to continue growing as a man.”
So, Kabara joined the Joshua Recovery Ministries program, which operates four of the recovery houses in the county.
“It is a spiritual faith-based program but we’re also involved with 12-step groups, we work full-time. We start building relationships with, not only our family and our friends, but with the entire community as well, and that’s huge.”
Kabara works as a house steward and provides transportation to others going through the program. The work keeps him busy but he says he likes the accountability that Joshua Recovery provides.
“I enjoy it though. It’s all service work to me and it’s just my way of giving back, and all it took was a little bit of surrender, God, and a fabulous community of people...I know this epidemic is troublesome to say the least but there’s hope. There is so much hope.”
That hope is shared by 34-year-old Andrew Leadford, also in the Joshua program. He spoke about his problems with addiction. He’s been sober for six months.
“You know it’s been a long, hard road, but people didn’t give up on me.”
Leadford says his initial treatment gave him a headstart, but the Joshua Ministries program helped him renew his faith and develop relationships with others in recovery.
“If I don’t believe that I’m powerless over this disease and admit to that step-one then none of this matters anyway," said Leadford. "But I took that first step…I know that I can stay clean.”
Sarah Northrup Fowler testified that she has been battling addiction since the age of thirteen. She’s been clean for 10 months and says her sobriety came only after a divorce and lost custody of her young son. It was the death of her then partner in a drug-related suicide that finally brought her around.
“I was homeless, penniless, hopeless," said Northrup. "A walking, truly lifeless shell in active addiction.”
After overdosing twice, revived by Narcan both times, Northrup was overwhelmed when she entered a six-month lockdown rehabilitation program. Once released, she chose to go into a living arrangement with The Lighthouse Project. They helped her through NA and AA programs, and gave her legal guidance.
In a passionate speech, Northrup talked of her life now, talking to other about her experience; first responders, and others experiencing addiction.
She asked the public to "be open minded in considering the benefits that the cities and schools, our children, and the once broken homes could gain by allowing those like myself the opportunity to become clean and to seek out others that still suffer and are a part of the voice needed to break the chain of addiction.”