In response to a drug epidemic that's made Ohio a leader in opioid-related deaths, several health agencies are hosting overdose-response training.

Since February, Franklin County Public Health, Columbus Public Health, Mount Carmel Health and the Franklin County Opiate Crisis Task Force have stepped up efforts to combat opioid overdoses by expanding response training from law enforcement agencies to the public.

Sessions to teach people how to recognize symptoms of overdoses and how to react to them already have been held in Prairie Township, Gahanna, Grove City and the Hilltop area of Columbus.

The groups are coming to Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, 2300 Lytham Road, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 8, for a Naloxone training program organizers say is vitally important.

"The goal of these trainings is to educate citizens on recognizing signs and symptoms of an opiate overdose, to train them on how to store, carry and use Naloxone, and to create awareness about the opiate crisis in Franklin County," said Shaddy Swade, Franklin County Public Health Emergency Preparedness supervisor.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a medication administered to block or reverse the effects of opioid drugs, including heroin. It's commonly carried by emergency first responders throughout Ohio, including medics and police in Upper Arlington.

Ohio now is the nation's leader in opioid overdose deaths, according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study released last November that found one in nine heroin deaths across the U.S. in 2014 occurred in Ohio, and that one in 14 deaths from synthetic opioids -- the highest rate in the nation -- took place in the Buckeye State.

A 2015 study from the Ohio Department of Health also found the number of "unintentional drug overdose deaths" in Ohio rose from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit May 31 against five companies that make addictive painkillers, arguing that drug manufacturers have caused a "human tragedy of epic proportion" in the state.

"We believe the evidence will show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans -- our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids -- addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids," DeWine said in a statement.

DeWine said pharmaceutical companies spent $168 million in 2014 alone through sales representatives "peddling prescription opioids to win over doctors with their smooth pitches and glossy brochures that downplayed the risks and highlighted the benefits." The companies would "deny and trivialize" the impact of opioids on patients, "leading to our state's worst public health crisis."

The numbers about overdose deaths can't be ignored, local health officials say.

Therefore, they're hosting training outreach to educate the public about addiction, its signs, how to react to overdoses and how to obtain medications to combat overdoses.

The June 8 session in Upper Arlington will provide opportunities to ask questions about opiate addiction. Attendees also will participate in hands-on demonstrations on how to assemble and use Naloxone, and will be eligible to receive a free Naloxone kit, while supplies last.

"There is no neighborhood in Franklin County that has not been affected by this crisis, including Upper Arlington," Swade said. "Local leaders, including the UA Fire Department, requested that we host a community Naloxone training in their city.

"We make use of training kits because we don't want the first time that someone assembles a Naloxone distribution device to be when someone is laying at their feet experiencing an overdose," he said. "The form of Naloxone that we give out is a nasal spray, and all attendees will leave the training with a kit containing two doses of Naloxone."

There are no registration requirements to attend the training session, and it is free to the public.

Swade added it will be a non-judgmental event aimed at helping to dispel stigmas associated with drug addiction.

"Our hope is that increasing access to this life-saving medication can give our friends and neighbors who are experiencing opiate addiction an opportunity to break the cycle of addiction and to seek treatment and recovery," he said.

For those who can't attend June 8 but are interested in obtaining Naloxone, free kits are available through the Mount Carmel mobile medical coach or at Southeast Inc. The Naloxone kits are distributed through a program called Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone).

All pharmacists can dispense Naloxone to anyone without a prescription. Most insurance plans will cover at least a portion of the cost, Swade said, but individuals don't need prescription insurance to purchase a kit from a pharmacy.

Columbus Dispatch reporter Alan Johnson contributed to this story.

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