Douglas County Health Department unveils multi-agency task force for drug overdose prevention

Jan. 31, 2024, 3:58 p.m. ·

Douglas County Health Department OFR Task Force
Dr. Lindsay Huse, Leah Casanave and Joani Street spoke to the press about the new Overdose Fatality Review Team

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Douglas County is taking steps to prevent drug overdose related deaths with a new program, the Douglas County Overdose Fatality Review Team (OFR).

The new task force was announced at a press conference Thursday morning.

One of OFR’s main goals is to better understand overdose deaths in the Douglas County community and to identify innovative ways to prevent additional deaths.

Joani Street with CHI Bergan Mercy said the task force is a collaborative effort.

“By blending public health, public safety, behavioral health and other service providers, OFR’s identify system gaps to develop data driven community specific overdose prevention and intervention strategies,” she said.

This program was formed in response to the demand for a more coordinated response to drug overdoses. The OFR will conduct confidential reviews of drug related deaths with community partners like CHI, Omaha Police Department and Nebraska State patrol to see what patterns exist and work together on prevention.

Other partners include support resources for addiction recovery, places with free Naloxone and mental health resources. Coalition RX is also cited as a key partner.

The conversations that the OFR will have, including all case reviews, are in compliance with all applicable State and Federal privacy and confidentiality legal requirements.

Funding for the task force came from the CDC Overdose Data to Action Grant, which was made possible by legislation passed last year by the Nebraska Legislature.

Dr. Lindsay Huse is the Douglas County Health Director and said the legislation helped the task force gain momentum.

“We are officially able to review cases and collaborate collaboratively learn about the circumstances of what happened in these needless tragic deaths,” Huse said.

Now that the OFR has been formed, the task force hopes to meet monthly and start case reviews in March.

Douglas County Health Department’s Division Chief Leah Casanave said the OFR will bring together the right people to share important data that will help make a difference.

“Our goal will be to have each of our partner organizations contribute to the case review and provide a robust discussion about what interventions failed,” Casanave said.

According to Douglas County Vital Statistic Data, one person in Douglas County dies per week of an overdose. As many as half of those are due to opioids.

In 2021, at least 214 people in Nebraska died from an overdose or drug poisoning.

Stigma has caused overdose deaths to be underrepresented, so the number is much higher.

Dr. Huse hopes OFR will decrease the number of preventable drug overdose deaths.

“We all know that too many have already been lost in this fight ranging from entertainment superstars to family and friends to people here in our own community that none of us will ever have the chance to meet,” Huse said.