Heroin fight strains addiction services

Montgomery County has made progress in its fight against the deadly heroin epidemic that was largely responsible for a record number of overdose deaths in the state last year, but limited resources and the emergence of new and deadlier narcotics has health officials struggling to keep up with the demand for services.

“This epidemic has taken us all by storm, all across this country,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board of Montgomery County. “We have never seen an addiction crisis like this, at least not in my career. This is one of those situations that requires all hands on deck.”

Jones-Kelley was among a number of health officials, law enforcement officers and city leaders who gathered Friday at the Montgomery County Administration Building for a progress report from the steering committee of the Community Overdose Action Team (COAT) formed last year to slow the number of overdose deaths in the county.

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In Montgomery County, the number of accidental drug overdose deaths climbed from 127 in 2010 to 355 last year, based on preliminary figures. They were among a record 3,050 people who died in Ohio last year from accidental overdoses, a number that was up more than 20 percent from the previous year, according to state health department figures.

A big reason for the surge has been the growing use of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug that is similar to morphine and heroin but is 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl was responsible for one-third of the drug overdoses in Ohio last year.

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“The product that they (drug users) are purchasing out there is scary,” Jones-Kelley said. “We’re probably going to experience even more heroin overdoses because it’s so readily available.”

The growing epidemic has put strained the county’s capacity to provide rehab, recovery and detox services.

To stem the tide, COAT — which now has 222 members — has taken several steps in the drug fight, including the establishment of a Sequential Intercept Mapping process, which is designed to help communities assess their resources, gaps and opportunities for collaboration at different “intercept points,” where officials can offer diversion or behavioral health intervention instead of incarceration.

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It’s a multi-layered approach that requires a collaborative effort, Jones-Kelley said: “This is a convening of key stakeholders from across the entire community that have come together as a team to figure out how we solve this critical problem. We know we’ll beat this over time.”

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