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Law enforcement, mental health groups to host opioid town hall

Ames Tribune - 12/22/2017

Dec. 22--In an effort to educate the Ames community about the growing opioid epidemic sweeping across the country, and further making its way into Iowa, the Ames Police Department, Central Iowa Drug Task Force, Mary Greeley Medical Center and local government officials will host a town hall meeting on Jan. 10 at the Ames City Council Chambers.

The event will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and feature an information session, followed by panel discussion and Q & A. The meeting, according to Ames Police Cmdr. Geoff Huff, will hopefully shed light on just how prevalent the issue is around the state, and how Ames and Story County can be prepared for when it arrives full force.

"We're in the middle (of the country) and we're starting to see it creep in from both sides, but especially the east," Huff said. "Instead of having to react when everything goes off the rails, we're trying to get ahead of the storm a little bit."

A majority of the issues around opioid addiction stem from opiate prescriptions like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), which are often considered "safe" pain medications that are usually prescribed following surgeries. The problem, according to Huff, comes when those prescriptions run out, and people have already become addicted to those opiates. In fact, Huff said that many of these opiates are so powerful that many people begin showing traits or addiction within the first 72 hours of use.

"There's such a strong psychological addiction to it," Huff said. "Withdrawal from opioids is a horrible, horrible thing, and trying to find the right venue to help people get clean is really tough."

According to Huff, the issue is not just a law enforcement, which is why the event will also feature mental health advocates and providers.

Michelle De La Riva is the opioid task force chair and also a the executive director of Community and Family Resources (CFR) in Ames, and she said Story County's low opioid abuse rate means that the community still has time to take proactive measures to prevent a severe wave like in other counties across the state.

"This is good news as it has given our community some time to look at evidenced based interventions that are best suited to treat those with opioid addiction and overdose," De La Riva said.

According to De La Riva, one such intervention is the use of medication assisted treatment, which utilizes a prescriber to assist with medication to help the person to detox and decrease cravings to use, while also utilizing a substance abuse treatment professional to provide counseling services. De La Riva said CFR along with Primary Health Care are working together on this project and have just started with a few patients.

She said that hopefully this town hall will be able to bring some of these treatments to light, and educate the public for when they begin to see more opioid abuse cases.

"The goal of the town hall is to provide some education to the public on the opioid epidemic and most importantly to find out from the community what they may be most concerned about," De La Riva said. "There has been a lot of information on the news regarding the epidemic and we want to provide information and assistance based on what the community brings forward that night."

Though Huff said that Ames has had minimal overdoses and deaths compared to other parts of the state and the country, he said it is important for people to recognize the symptoms of an overdose, and how to properly administer naloxone (or NarCan) to someone who has overdosed. Every person on staff at the Ames Police Department has been trained to deploy naloxone, which is outfitted in every police vehicle.

Huff said that with many of the synthetic opioids, which can be cut with numerous other substances including fentanyl, coming in powder form, they can easily get into the air, and some can even be absorbed through the skin, causing people to unintentionally overdose. So the naloxone is not only used for the public, but also the safety of the officers.

"We search vehicles; we search people, and we wanted to make sure we had it available just in case one of our officers were to encounter something, and accidentally ingest a synthetic," Huff said.

According to Huff, naloxone is available over the counter at a majority of pharmacies like Hy-Vee, Walgreens or CVS, which he said many people are unaware of. Hopefully, through this town hall, people will have a better comprehension of how close this issue is to central Iowa, and where people can turn to receive the help either they or someone they know needs, he said.

"We want to make people aware that this is happening, and its heading in our direction," Huff said. "There's a lot of forms out there, and a lot of good honest people have become addicted by accident generally through some type of injury, and are really struggling with it. So it's about preventing it from happening in the first place and then figuring out what to do with those folks who have become addicted."


WHAT: Opioid Town Hall

WHEN: Jan. 10, 2018 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

WHERE: Ames City Council Chambers


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