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Health officer says alcohol is a major problem in county

March 03, 2001

Health officer says alcohol is a major problem in county



Editor's note: The answers have been edited slightly for space and clarity.

Q. How serious is the drug problem in Washington County and what services are the Health Department offering to help curb it?

A. Any community in which part of its citizens are using illegal drugs has a problem. I think Washington County has a problem. It is not as severe as some of our counties east of us. We do have a problem, particularly with alcohol. Alcohol seems to be the drug of choice although we do have individuals using heroin, cocaine and the other illegal drugs.

Q. What programs do you have available to help?

A. We have two programs that are particularly targeted for drugs and alcohol. We have a substance abuse program here in which we will provide counseling, and we have intensive outpatient counseling and other forms of outpatient counseling for anyone who wants to kick their habit of either drugs or alcohol.

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We also have a very good prevention program, trying to identify individuals or groups of individuals that are at high risk for drinking or for using drugs. I did miss out on one of the major drug problems we have in the county and that's smoking. I think it is foolish not to recognize smoking as a drug problem. Nicotine is a drug. The Food and Drug Administration has clearly identified it as such, and that is a major problem.

Q.What is being done and what more can be done to address the health needs of the uninsured, including people who don't have dental or vision coverage, children and adolescents with mental illnesses, and people addicted to illegal drugs who are seeking treatment?

A.One of the things we're doing right now is trying to get a handle on the extent to which individuals here in the county do not have health insurance coverage. We are going to be calling all the major employers in the county to see if they do offer health insurance coverage, if they are including family and their spouse in that and if there is a substantial co-payment and the deductibles involved. We need to know the extent of the problem. Unfortunately, in many places across the country, the major issue deals with individuals who are employed and their firm either doesn't offer the coverage or only offers it for the individual. So we have a lot of individuals that are fully employed, but don't have the income nor the benefits to provide coverage. I think the first thing is find out what the particular problem is, and then start to see what we can do about making services available to them or encourage their employers to provide some coverage.

For children, we have an active program trying to identify those children that are eligible for AMCHO. That's the state's child health insurance program. Right now I think we have been very active in enrolling children in that program.

I think the other thing is that all the providers in the community that are serving these uninsured need to be very diligent, and when an individual comes in without insurance to see if, in fact, they can be enrolled in insurance. Walnut Street Free Clinic, our clinics here, all have an obligation, in my mind, to do some outreach in eligibility verification for individuals that come in and receive free care so we can get insurance coverage for them.

Dental is a real problem, because for children who are in Health Choice, I believe they get dental coverage and they have access to care through Walnut Street. For individuals, for adults who have no health insurance coverage, there's not many options available to them in this county. We have a dental clinic in which Dr. Johnson basically pulls teeth. That is not really good dentistry. We need to be in a position to start preventing that activity, but really we have no funds available to do that.

Most of the county has fluoridated water. That's very good; that's one step to help our children who develop cavities. We need to have some program, and I'm not quite sure how we do this, focusing in on adults. It may be possible through some assistance with the federal government in our federally qualified health center in Hancock to develop a dental program and have it covered through the federal grant that center receives. But short of that, I don't have any solutions to the problem right now.

Vision, I don't think is a major problem. I think that the primary thing you want to do is identify children that have seeing problems, and I think the best resource there is for the teachers to identify and pay attention to a child that may be having some difficulties, learning difficulties, seeing the board, and then refer that child to the school nurse or school health aide who can do a quick vision check and refer the child.

Q. What about adolescents with mental illnesses?

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