Area officials are banding together in an effort to change the drug situation in Chillicothe and Ross County.

The Ross County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition on Thursday began merging with Mayor Jack Everson’s fledgling task force on drugs. The coalition has been in place for about four years and has focused on increasing awareness and education on the drug problem in the area while also looking at ways to improve addiction services.

Meanwhile, Everson’s task force met for the first time in mid-November after about six months of ruminating about developing it, he said. While both groups involve many of the same agencies, a key difference was Everson’s focus on bringing the leaders of the agencies to the table and not just appointed representation.

“I feel if we have the decision makers in the room … we’re going to have a better impact on the issue,” he said.

While the coalition’s focus tended to be more treatment-oriented in its efforts, the mayor’s group aimed to improve strategies of enforcement and prevention by gathering together the sheriff, police chief, judges and prosecutors.

“Understand what we’re doing is not saying this (coalition) isn’t working, but it’s not working well enough. … We need to make it tough to do (and sell) drugs in Chillicothe,” said Everson, who had been unaware until recently of the coalition’s efforts.

The coalition has had a part in several initiatives beyond conducting community forums about the drug issue and treatment options. It has helped along initiatives such as the creation of Surviving Our Loss and Continuing Everyday of Ross County, which provides support to loved ones of addicts, the implementation of new testing procedures of newborns at Adena Medical Center, and the recovery to work program through the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board.

“What we haven’t done well is get the word out, and that needs to change,” Ross County Coroner Dr. John Gabis said.

Gabis suggested merging the two groups to prevent duplication of efforts and streamline communication of what services are available in the community. The process of bringing the two groups together began at a Thursday meeting and will continue during a January meeting.

“I know by working together we’re going to feed off each other with positive energy to keep going,” Gabis said.

“There’s no sense to have two groups going,” Everson said. “We need to have one cohesive group so we know what each other’s doing.”

A general consensus was reached that officials need to identify the things that can be done in the short term on a local level. Ross County Commissioner Jim Caldwell suggested that once a plan was created, they then could begin looking to each other’s budgets and maybe the business community to find funding to get something done.

“We need to find our own way of how to handle our own destiny,” Caldwell said.

Once there is some positive, measurable outcomes, then officials could take the plan to the state in an effort to get money to achieve a long-term goal. Chillicothe Police Chief Roger Moore suggested that long-term plan needs to be a state-funded rehabilitation facility that would provide free treatment to people in the early stages of addiction who probate themselves to be in the program.

“In the beginning (of addiction) I think we all, at least I have, a lot of empathy,” Moore said, adding there’s a greater chance for those who are helped before they begin resorting to committing crimes and prostitution to get drugs.

The goal of the January meeting will be to start identifying the short-term initiatives to focus on to get to a longer-term goal.

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