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US Surgeon General Murthy Tours Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center

In 2010, Cuyahoga County, Ohio was officially recognized as one of the top 5 areas in the state being particularly impacted by the opioid crisis. During an awareness and education campaign organized by the Ohio Department of Health, Cuyahoga County Opiate Task Force (CCOTF) was formed to support community action and create a healthier community through collaborative partnerships that focus on prevention, treatment, and recovery. According to Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson, fentanyl-related overdose deaths saw a dramatic 640% increase, from 5 in 2013 to 39 in 2014, while heroin-related overdose deaths rose to 198 in 2014.

On Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy visited patients in recovery at St. Vincent Rosary Hall and listened to their heartbreaking stories, from battling drug addiction to seeking treatment and starting the road to recovery. On behalf of the federal government, Murthy declared that this devastating and unacceptable public health crisis needs to be attacked on multiple fronts, emphasizing that helping people look at drug addiction as a chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes, that affects every demographic without prejudice, and thus changing the common perception of the general public is the first step in erasing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.

Advances in neuroscience have truly revolutionized our understanding of this brain disease that can actually be prevented, treated and that people can fully recover from, enabling us to respond in a more effective manner to the opioid epidemic that continues to claim lives across the nation.

U.S. Surgeon General Murthy applauded Ohio's efforts to expand access to the life-saving medicine naloxone (brand name Narcan) primarily through Project DAWN ( Deaths Avoided with Naloxone), an opiate overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND) program launched in 2013, but he also stated that Cuyahoga County needs to focus a lot more on reforming doctors' prescribing practices. According to one physician at Rosary Hall, in the state of Ohio, about 48% of healthcare providers who prescribe the opioid agonist buprenorphine ( Suboxone) require cash for this medicine that helps mitigate opioid withdrawal symptoms. Although this practice does feed opiate addiction, ultimately generating what it's known as the "pill mill" situation, it nevertheless remains legal for now.

Later this year, Vivek Murthy will issue the Office of the Surgeon General's nationwide report on health, drugs and alcohol. Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish joined Murthy at St.Vincent and told reporters that it is primordial to advocate for increasing the Medicaid reimbursement limit on the number of beds available in each treatment facility, more specifically from 30 beds to at least 100 beds, to develop harm reduction strategies that can be effectively employed in the fight against the opioid epidemic sweeping the county and an entire nation.

In 2015, a total of 194 people died of an opioid overdose in the county, while so far in 2016, the death count has already reached 228. This also means that the number of opioid users seeking treatment is on the rise. For instance, waiting lists for treatment facilities such as Rosary Hall at St.Vincent Medical Center typically hover around the 2-week time frame. County officials have already declared an objective of reducing it to 5 days or even fewer.

Founded by Sister Ignatia Gavin in 1952, Rosary Hall has successfully treated more than 60,000 patients with substance abuse disorders for over six decades. Cuyahoga County Project DAWN operates three free community walk-in facilities ( two in Cleveland and one in Parma) which are accessible to individuals, first responders, and families of those at risk for opiate overdose, regardless of the county they live in.

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