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Stronger together

Why Emily Manning '15, '17 MPH moved back to Hamilton County to join a coalition against heroin

Emily Manning considers herself lucky. While opioid addiction hasn’t touched her own family, the greater Cincinnati area in which she grew up is among the nation’s hardest hit regions.

In 2017 alone, more than 400 people died of unintentional overdoses in Hamilton County. That’s more than double the 2016 death toll and a grim record for the county.

That’s why Manning ’15, ’17 MPH took action. After earning her master’s, she accepted a position as the first program coordinator for the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, a public-private partnership that works to attack the crisis from all angles.

It was the perfect transition for Manning. She could use her experience in tobacco cessation from Ohio State, apply it to the opioid crisis and help the community she loves.

“In tobacco cessation, I didn’t know that I was necessarily making as much of a difference as I wanted. I felt like we were, at that point, preaching to the choir,” Manning says. “When the opioid epidemic blew up, I felt I could use the experience in a different space.”

As the fulcrum of communication and strategy for all 40 agencies and organizations in the coalition, Manning works with the big picture in mind. On a typical day, she might meet with the coalition’s treatment committee and deliver the insights she gains to the prevention committee.

Since she took the position six months ago, Manning has helped the coalition partner with the Narcan Distribution Collaborative to supply free doses of Narcan, the brand name of the overdose-reversal drug naloxone. In November and December alone, the coalition facilitated the distribution of more than 3,000 doses of the lifesaving drug to the Hamilton County jail, police officers, hospitals and others.

“When someone is dead, you can’t do anything about it,” Manning says. “But when they’re alive, you have an opportunity to give them the help they need. The idea behind Narcan is to keep people alive so we can catch them where they’re at and, hopefully, give them the help they need.”

For Manning, this work is just the beginning. Overdose rates remain at an all-time high.

“Meaningful change isn’t going happen until people are able to talk about the problem in a constructive way,” she says. “You need the community’s support for volunteers and donations. We’re not going to 100 percent get that until people talk about this less as addiction in a negative way and more as a disease. Just like you do cancer. Just like you do heart disease.”

Despite aspects of her work that are heartbreaking, Manning remains hopeful. She sees every day that education, treatment and recovery are possible.

Here’s her advice for others who want to help: Volunteer at understaffed treatment centers, attend a seminar or conference on the epidemic, get trained in how to administer naloxone and — above all — learn more. Community involvement doesn’t cost a dime, and the results are priceless, she says.