Vinton County Courier // By Heather Willard

Representatives from several state and local health agencies met at the Athens-Hocking-Vinton Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services 317 Board on April 18 to launch a statewide public awareness campaign aimed at educating the public on opioids.

The campaign, called “Take Charge Ohio,” is through the Ohio Department of Health and funded through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal of the campaign is to help opioid prescribers educate the public on the dangers of misusing prescription pain medication and how to safely manage pain. The campaign also provides information on safely storing and disposing of prescription pills.

Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said that Southeast Ohio has been disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis but that the region has done “exemplary” work on combating the opioid problem.

“(Southeast Ohio) being really one of the epicenters of (the opioid issue), I really want to commend the area here for the work that’s been done with this,” he said. “The collaboration with the boards of health, the collaboration with law enforcement, the collaboration with the university — all those things have been really important in the progress that’s been made around here.”

Others who spoke included Earl Cecil, executive director of the 317 Board; Susan Crapes, health commissioner of the Vinton County Health Department; Lance Himes, director of the Ohio Department of Health; A.J. Groeber, executive director of the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy; and James Gaskell, health commissioner of the Athens City-County Health Department.

Himes noted that one of the main objectives of the campaign is prevention and early intervention.

“We want to be sure people get the pain treatment they need in order to improve their function and in order to recover from the conditions they have,” he said.

“But at the same time we want to minimize the likelihood of a therapeutic approach in terms of this medication, leading to unanticipated approaches, like the development of addiction, like unintended overdoses and things of that nature.”

Hurst also noted that Ohio was one of the first states to implement opioid guidelines and creating initiatives to combat opioid abuse, starting six years ago with the implementation of The Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its opioid prescribing guidelines in 2016.

Ohio has seen a drop in prescription opioid deaths over the past five years, but the state still has second highest rate of opioid overdose deaths in America, according to the CDC.

“This was actually requested by the prescribers about ‘we need some things that are going to help us in terms of managing our patients, and we need tools for the patients to be able to manage themselves,’” Hurst said. “We need to manage the pain, but in a way that minimizes the risk of addiction.”

Take Charge Ohio will be publicized via advertisements on TV, the radio and in newspapers. All of the campaign’s information for prescribers, patients and the general public is available on the website This website has additional services on it, including a quiz to help determine the likelihood of prescription opioid abuse by individuals, friends and relatives.

Crapes spoke about her perspective working in Vinton County.

“As a physician prescribing, it was very hard to difficult to know what the rules really were at any time. I could prescribe to someone who was misusing the meds and didn’t have the tools to know that,” she said. “The media campaign hopefully will flood the environment … because these things do work and they do raise awareness and then it becomes OK to talk about these kind things with your family, at school, with your friends.”

Crapes also noted that one of the main issues Vinton County has dealt with in their community health plan is the child abuse and neglect which occurs due to caregivers’ addictions.

Lance Himes, director of the Ohio Department of Health, expressed hope for the future.

“By offering prescribers and their patients these resources to educate one another, we really hope the scope of the problem decreases,” he said. “We think progress is being made.”

A.J. Groeber, executive director of the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, noted his connection to OU as his alma mater, and said witnesses the epidemic going on in a place he knows so well gives him “a sense of sadness.”

“This is a beautiful community, it’s a beautiful place,” he said. “To be ravaged the way it has by the opioid crisis, both through prescriptions and through illicit drugs, I feel a very personal sense of responsibility.”

Groeber also said that one of the goals of the campaign is “sensible prescribing,” and said that Ohio accounts for 25-35 percent of all prescription drug monitoring checks in the nation.

“Our licensees are getting the message, our business partners are getting the message,” he said. “What we’re seeing is that the mindset has been ‘relief to pain comes in a pill bottle,’ and that is simply not true. Being able to numb your brain and ignore pain can come in a pill bottle, but we’re looking for an increase in functionality, an increase in quality of life.”