SW Ohio cities partner with businesses, academia on unified opioid response
- A group of cities, police departments, business groups and academic representatives in Southwest Ohio are looking to partner with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fight the region’s addiction epidemic.
- The Cincinnati Police Department and the Newtown, OH Police Department will partner with the likes of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, nonprofits, and smart city investment firm Venture Smarter on a pilot program. This program will use data, analytics and other digital tools and strategies to combat addictions and help match addicts with treatment. The group signed letters of intent Thursday at the Smart Regions Conference in Columbus, OH, to be submitted to DHS as part of an application for a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
- "What this does, it brings all the pieces together. We are now all connected, and I am convinced that this will take it to the next level,” Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan said during a roundtable discussion accompanying the partnership announcement. “This is what we've been screaming for, yelling for, asking for. They heard us, they're here now, they're going to make this the hub, the region."
During the roundtable discussion, Cincinnati City Council Member Amy Murray said the effects of the opioid crisis have been keenly felt in cities, not only in the Midwest but throughout the United States.
"It impacts every level of our society,” she said. “It's impacting our workforce, it's impacting our families, it's impacting our family services, our police and fire. They are spending so much time dealing with this."
The crisis has placed a major strain on city resources — especially public safety and first responders — as they struggle to keep up with calls for overdoses and other emergencies. This partnership looks to ease that in Southwest Ohio, with Lt. Paul Neudigate of the Cincinnati Police Department noting the city has been "pretty much ground zero for us ... It's something we had not budgeted for, we had not staffed for, so we have to be very data-driven in the deployment of our resources,” he continued.
The opioid crisis has ravaged cities and left mayors and other local leaders worried.
In a survey conducted by the National League of Cities (NLC) this year, leaders in the Midwest and Northeast cited it as a major problem, with municipal responses mostly involving supporting widespread distribution of opioid overdose antidotes, such as Narcan, followed by expanding access to treatment.
But that approach appears to be changing. Sewage-sniffing robots that can work out where substances are in wastewater are becoming more widely used, while cities are also turning to technology and data and putting it on dashboards to keep track. Such local-level partnerships will be key, especially as it is unclear what will happen in the wake of the federal legislation that President Donald Trump signed earlier this week.
And for DHS, if this program is successful in Southwest Ohio and replicable in the United States, the results could indicate the federal government as effective partners on local initiatives.
"We're trying to work with them to show that we can scale from big federal systems down to state and local systems,” Andre Hentz, Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology at DHS, said during the roundtable.
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