Lakewood OH

Project SOAR to take flight against opioid epidemic



LAKEWOOD- As an inner-ring Cleveland suburb, Lakewood has been greatly impacted by the opioid crisis.

Last year, 141 individuals overdosed, 31 of those fatally. In 2015, those numbers stood at 46 and 9, respectively. The Cleveland Clinic Lakewood Emergency Department saw 158 drug overdose cases between January 2016 and March 2017 and 60 percent of those were known to involve opioids.

The city has taken several steps in response. Mayor Michael Summers championed a resolution passed by City Council declaring the opioid epidemic as a public health crisis. Lakewood police added two more officers to the narcotics unit for a total of six, and the city was one of the first communities in the area to provide Naloxone to first responders. Several community conversations have been held and citizen Naloxone training has been offered.

Now, project SOAR will offer a collaborative community response to the opioid emergency.

Katie Kurtz, clinical manager for the city’s department of human services, said that in January of this year, a 66 percent rise in overdoses helped spur the formation of SOAR (Supporting Opiate Addiction Recovery). “The mayor and other community leaders said we have to try anything to address this,” she stated.

In response, the city facilitated a meeting between representatives from local, county, state and federal organizations. The result was a partnership and grant from the ADAMHS (Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services). Also collaborating on the project are the Cleveland Clinic Lakewood Emergency Department and the Woodrow Project, a sober living experience for women in recovery, to create a rapid overdose response program, set to launch in the fall of 2017.

“This was approved by the ADAMHS board and they wanted to use Lakewood as a pilot program,” said Kurtz. She noted that the city’s medium size, growing number of overdoses and the willingness of law enforcement, first responders and the Lakewood Municipal Court to intervene with innovative strategies affords the ideal “laboratory.”

“The city provides a good container for the pilot project and evaluation,” she said.

Kurtz added that the nearly $300,000 grant from ADAMHS will help employ peer support specialists in partnership with the Woodrow Project, individuals who are themselves recovering from addiction. They will respond at three access points: the Cleveland Clinic Lakewood Emergency Room Department, Safe Station Lakewood at Fire House #1, and the Lakewood Municipal Court probation office.

The peer support specialists, among other services, will assist individuals to embark on a recovery process, navigate the treatment system, model effective coping techniques, and advocate for effective recovery services.

“This is a harm reduction model. We want to link people with resources,” said Kurtz, noting that SOAR has three main goals: reduction of opiate misuse and fatal overdoses, the provision of rapid access to treatment/recovery support, and the evaluation of the impact of the program.

“We have a strong relationship with our community partners,” said Kurtz, adding that ADAMHS will use evaluations to determine if the project will continue in Lakewood and expand to include other communities.

Department of Human Services Director Antoinette Gelsomino told City Council during its July 3 meeting, “Project SOAR was designed using successful interventions that respond to identified gaps and roadblocks to the process of recovery.”

Another goal of SOAR is to reduce the stigma often associated with addiction. According to information provided by the city, one person’s struggle with addiction affects not only them, but family, friends, neighbors and the community as a whole. It suggests terminology such as “misuse or addiction” to replace “abuse or habit” and “person with a substance misuse disorder” rather than “addict, junkie or user.”

Kurtz said the project is expected to begin in late September or early October. City Council President Sam O’Leary stated, “We hope we can have this conversation and move forward soon with what promises to be an important partnership.”

For more information about Project SOAR, go to or contact Katie Kurtz at (216)529-5011 or





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