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Officials trumpet dangers of meth

WARREN — The Trumbull County Combined Health District and the Warren City Health Department partnered up to obtain a grant that will bring more than $400,000 to the area to combat substance use disorders.

Over the next three years, the grant will bring $140,000 to the departments to work on solutions and services for people affected by the opioid crisis, said Kathy Parrilla, public health nurse for the county district.

By combining forces, the two health departments were able to capture the competitive grant, Parrilla said. Once the grant is implemented, there will be two locations in Warren for people to get the life-saving drug Narcan and training on how to use it. Through the Warren department, they also can get access to testing for the blood-borne illnesses that often impact people who have used substances like heroin.

And, if the collaboration gets a second grant for $500 from a local agency, the departments will be able to buy fentanyl testing strips at $1 a strip to hand out to people who need them, Parrilla said.

The strips have been a success in other areas, including Summit County, and may help combat the new face of the drug crisis, Parrilla said. While fewer are dying from straight heroin, fentanyl is still killing the majority of people dying from accidental drug overdoses in Trumbull County.

And because more and more people have moved away from buying heroin because they know how deadly it is, they are turning to drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, without knowing it may be, or is likely to be, also laced with fentanyl, Parrilla said.

The test strips can’t show how much fentanyl is in a substance, but can tell a user if fentanyl is present. That knowledge can change how a person uses the drug and may reduce their risk for overdose and death, Parrilla said.

In Summit County, 2,834 testing strips were distributed and 251 of them revealed the substance tested had fentanyl, or another similar analogue, in it, according to the data provided by the county. That led to 177 people not using the substance.

“That presents a positive behavior change,” Parrilla said.

And, even if people used the drug anyway, they were more likely to “go slow” and take it easy, reducing their risk of overdose, Parrilla said.

This product is especially important now as more people drift toward methamphetamine and cocaine in lieu of heroin, Parrilla said.

When it comes to harm reduction practices in substance use treatments, most any method to keep people alive long enough to get them into stable recovery is worth a try, Parrilla said.

But, the strips might not solve some of the problems brought on by the new trends in local drug use.

Pure meth killed four people in Trumbull County this year, and it wasn’t mixed with fentanyl.

“We have to try to stay on top of the trends,” said Lauren Thorp, Alliance for Substance Abuse and Prevention project director and director of recovery at the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The opioid crisis caught many health officials off guard, but the resurgence of meth will not.

“The biggest thing is education. People need to know meth can kill too. They think there is less of a chance meth will kill them than opioids. They need to realize this is a problem too,” Parrilla said. “The scary part is, Narcan doesn’t work on meth alone.”

When a person overdoses on meth — it can happen to younger people and older people — their heart beats and blood pressure increase. There is no simple fix, but medical intervention can help, Parrilla said.

Meth overdoses can make a person hyperstimulated and agitated. It can make a person irritable and make them act erratically, Parrilla said. It can cause stroke and heart attack in people that never exhibited problems in those areas before.

Meth resurgence is a statewide issue.

“We’re in a meth epidemic, similar to the opioid epidemic,” said April Caraway, executive director of the mental health and recovery board.

But grant money to help these types of crises are often two years behind, Caraway said.

“Too many people are dying because we can’t react fast enough,” Caraway said.

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