A community approach to addressing binge drinking in Hancock County Ohio. Real Stories. Real Impact

A Community Approach to Addressing Binge Drinking

Real Stories. Real Impact. Voices from Hancock County

Like many parts of the country, Hancock County, Ohio experienced increased alcohol use and its corresponding health issues, during the pandemic. Isolation, illness, disruptions in work and school, and limited access to health care and mental health services took their toll in this community in northwestern Ohio, leading to increases in binge drinking, higher reports of poor mental health, and deaths from alcohol use and overdoses.

Alongside what was happening in the community at large, a physician at the local hospital identified that staff members were using alcohol as a coping mechanism to get through Covid’s effects, too, said Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS). That organization, along with the Hancock County Community Coalition of Addiction, wanted to find solutions that would address these issues for the medical staff and greater community and reach people at whatever stage they were at.

“Knowing that they are professional practitioners and the stigma associated with having substance use, what can we do to try and find a back-door way for people to be able to assess themselves, as in are they using something as a coping mechanism that is going to get them into trouble,” Stuby said. “We knew it was not unique to the hospital. That’s a coping mechanism that’s being used in a lot of households as a result of the stress and everything related to the pandemic.”

In a 2021 community health assessment, 20% of adults surveyed in Hancock County classified as being binge drinkers (more than four drinks for women and five for men on a single occasion in the past 30 days) and 40% said their mental health was “not good” on four or more days in the prior month. 

To counter the negative turn the community was witnessing, officials from ADAMHS and the Community Coalition of Addiction — 150 members from all areas of the community — landed on CHESS Health’s ePrevention and eRecovery solutions in June 2022. Armed with its three-year Community Health Improvement Plan, the leaders identified the three core groups, each with diverse needs, that they wanted to reach with the CHESS Health solutions:

  • Individuals who may or may not be aware they have a problem with alcohol use
  • Individuals aware of problematic alcohol use and seeking help
  • Those in recovery who avoid traditional support efforts and/or need additional support

Since launching CHESS Health’s solutions, Hancock County has seen some impressive results

The agencies used an innovative approach, creating a QR code that drove to CHESS Health’s automated Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) assessment. They targeted local employers first, asking them to include the QR code on their websites, at employee health fairs, and on bulletin boards — any way that they could make it easy for employees to screen privately and then have the opportunity to access peer support through the CHESS Health Connections app, a 24/7, evidence-based smartphone app that helps individuals stick to their treatment plan and stay in recovery. 

It was important to the agencies to have a simple and anonymous way for individuals to access the screening themselves, so they partnered with local coffee shops, bars, and restaurants to provide coffee cup sleeves and coasters with the QR code printed on them, a low-cost way to put the tools in front of more people in the community. 

“The same way you screen to see if you’re at high risk for cancer or heart disease, this is a way to screen for alcohol use and see where we are,” Stuby said. 

In addition to providing a way for people to determine whether they needed help, Hancock County leaders wanted more tools to support people who were already in recovery. Use of the QR code to access the assessment tools and the Connections app has been steady and growing in the small community, Stuby said. 

The immediacy the tools offer also is critically important. 

“The biggest success you have is when you have something immediately available,” Stuby said. “That’s one of the things with the support that’s available through the CHESS app, being able to provide that support between appointments and in the evenings. If someone screens and they can’t get in until Monday, they can get some support until Monday.”

The Connections app also makes it possible for people in recovery to simply share their successes and milestones with others who will appreciate what it means and give them much-needed virtual cheerleading. JenniferL, the Connections App alias name for a Hancock County resident, posted about hitting 4,917 days in recovery. 

“I celebrate others but sometimes have a hard time celebrating myself, so I’m posting this to do just that,” she posted. 

Stuby said posts like JenniferL’s are important to the person who posts but can be equally valuable to someone much earlier in the recovery process as a source of inspiration to keep going. 

“Just think what that does to give hope to somebody else. If they can do it, I can, too,” Stuby said. “We want to support your recovery. Here’s another tool to help.”

The Hancock County agencies are enthusiastic about what they’re seeing following the adoption of the CHESS Health solutions as yet another critical piece of a full tool kit to address substance use disorder (SUD) in their community. Stuby noted that there aren’t silver bullets or one-size-fits-all solutions to these issues. Instead, communities are best served when a variety of choices are presented and people can select what works for them in the moment.

“Having these different options that people can put in place, they can wrap around them what works best for them,” she said. “We are a community that values that there are multiple paths and people need to choose the path or paths, whatever works for them. It’s up to us to have that array of options for them.”

Ensuring that the path can be quickly and easily accessed by all is something the Hancock County agencies were pleased to find in CHESS Health’s solutions.

“We’re really excited about the collaboration and would love to see it be something that was widely available everywhere” Stuby said. “I think people are savvy when something isn’t right and they turn to their phone. They turn to an electronic means. They are exploring what could be wrong. We need to make sure that we have options for them to explore this as well. And that we can get help to them.”

Read more about Hancock County’s success in Hancock County’s Approach to Tackling SUD Case Study.