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With overdose deaths of Black men on the rise statewide, Hamilton Co. expands Quick Response Team

Courtesy of Hamilton County Administration

Hamilton County is launching an expansion of its door-to-door Quick Response Team (QRT) as Black male overdose deaths rose over the past year. The county will work with state and local partners to apply evidence-based interventions tailored to improving outcomes among Black males in the community.

According to the Ohio Department of Health's mortality data, Ohio saw a 16.9% increase in overdose deaths among Black residents when comparing 2021 to 2020. Last year set a record, with 850 overdose deaths among Black residents. At the current pace, Harm Reduction Ohio estimates about 950 Black Ohioans will die from an overdose this year.

Hamilton County's QRT connects surviving overdose victims with treatment. It's been in operation since 2018. Along with the QRT, the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition, formed in 2015, has expanded from a part-time initiative to a full-time program. Every neighborhood in Hamilton County has a QRT and Colerain Township has its own. QRTs help connect individuals who experience an opioid overdose or illicit drug event with treatment and recovery services.

During a press conference at the Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program (UMADAOP) in Cincinnati, Commissioner Denise Driehaus said East Walnut Hills had the highest overdose death rate for Black residents in the entire state of Ohio. According to Harm Reduction Ohio, the neighborhood averaged 38 deaths per 5,345 people. That converts to roughly 711 deaths per 100,000.

"These teams that we are putting out on the streets, on the doorsteps, will work to save lives and get people into treatment and long-term recovery and put the brakes on the increase that we're seeing in the African American community when it comes to overdose deaths," Driehaus said.

UMADAOP CEO and Executive Director Leah Dennis Ellsworth addressed reasons why Black men do not seek treatment as well as which neighborhoods are struggling with overdose deaths in Cincinnati.
Cory Sharber
UMADAOP CEO and Executive Director Leah Dennis Ellsworth addressed reasons why Black men do not seek treatment as well as which neighborhoods are struggling with overdose deaths in Cincinnati.

UMADAOP CEO and Executive Director Leah Dennis Ellsworth says the preferred illicit drug in the Black community is cocaine. However, what's triggering the overdoses is cocaine cut with fentanyl. She also noted one of the reasons why Black men may not seek treatment for addiction.

"African American males normally will not go into treatment," Ellsworth said. "There is also issues around discrimination or how they see African Americans with health care and the access for them to even know how to navigate the health care system."

She says the pandemic not only affected the program she directs, but harmed the mental health of Black residents dealing with addiction.

"You have now this increase in isolation, anxiety, depression, and so what do you do? You don't have any funds, you don't have a job, you're having problems with housing, you're now coming back from maybe being incarcerated, returning to the community, and all of these things collided with the pandemic," Ellsworth said.

Ellsworth acknowledged five neighborhoods struggling with overdoses. Those include Price Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, Clifton and Western Hills.

Three full-time QRT navigators will be added to the team already consisting of two full-time law enforcement officers, a state trooper, and a sheriff's deputy.

Roughly $800,000 in state grant funding will help expand the African American male outreach program.

In 2021, Black residents account for 14% of Ohio’s population and 17.8% of overdose deaths. By contrast, white residents make up 82.8% of Ohio’s population and 80.7% of overdose deaths. Asians and Native Americans account for 3.1% of Ohio’s population and 0.6% of overdose deaths.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.