Agencies ‘need to mobilize’ against heroin epidemic

Heroin Summit in Middletown meant to develop action steps.

Adkins said he asked the city’s public safety forces and health department to calculate for 2014 the city’s direct cost to responding to the heroin problem.

The $1,577,864 spent included over $18,000 for indigent burials of drug overdose deaths; $167,000 spent by the fire department; and $1.3 million for the police department, including patrols, special operations by the narcotics unit and jail corrections, according to Adkins.

He said on top of that 49 people in Middletown died from heroin last year.

“If I put it to you there was a defective product in this community and it killed 50 people and it generated $1.5 million in damages … we would lose our minds,” Adkins said. “We would absolutely stand up and say, ‘No more.’ But heroin is uncomfortable; we don’t like to talk about that.”

In response, the city of Middletown and Atrium Medical Center are holding a Heroin Summit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the hospital. The day-long event is not open to the public because it’s a work session for community stakeholders to set goals and begin developing a community-wide response to dealing with the heroin issue most effectively, Adkins said.

“I believe this will be the most difficult issue I will face this year,” Adkins said. “Heroin is devious, funding is scarce and the damage to our community is almost beyond calculation.”

Adkins said when he started in 2005 as the city prosecutor, he would come into the office on a Monday to find about 20 people in jail from over the weekend. He said only about three cases were felony crimes.

“Then heroin resurged in this community, and if we come in on a Monday morning now, there are 30-35 in jail and over 20 of them are felonies, almost all related to drug abuse and drug addiction in this community,” Adkins said.

He said the $1.5 million spent responding to heroin kept the city from paving an additional six miles of roadways and putting more public safety people on the streets.

Adkins said the Heroin Summit will include stakeholders from city government, police and fire, the prosecutor’s office, the courts system, health care providers, education, business and religious communities, and civic and social groups. State Rep. Tim Derickson (R-Hanover Twp.) is also scheduled to appear.

Tina Gregory, nursing director of Atrium’s emergency department and behavioral health unit, said she’s hoping the multi-disciplinary agencies will be able to collaborate to develop action steps.

“It’s not a problem one piece of the puzzle will solve,” Gregory said. “We need to mobilize against this.”

Gregory said the Middletown hospital has felt the same burden from the heroin problem as hospitals and communities across Ohio. From 2000 to 2012, there’s been a 366 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in Ohio, according to Gregory.

“We see patients with heroin problems several times a week,” she said.

During a 24-hour period in the first week of January, Gregory said Atrium treated 14 heroin overdoses and, surprisingly, none of them resulted in a death.

“People though are dying,” Gregory said.

In the first three months of 2014, Butler County had 50 drug overdose deaths — a 139 percent increase over the same period in 2013, according to Gregory.

During the entire 2014, Middletown alone had 49 heroin deaths and another seven pending the final coroner report, Adkins said.

Gregory said men and women between the ages of 25 and 34 are at the highest risk for a fatal drug overdose.

“We have stigmas that we put with drug abuse. … Drug addicts are bad people; people addicted to drugs must come from dysfunctional families; heroin addiction is a character flaw,” Adkins said. “I will be the first to say those addicted to drugs are responsible for their choices and their behavior, but I will also say I’ve spent enough time talking to medical professionals … to say that when heroin addiction takes control of a person, it is now a chronic medical condition.”

Adkins said 40-60 percent of drug addicts will relapse.

Gregory said it’s “such an intense use of resources” for emergency medical responders, police and fire, and hospitals to respond to and treat heroin use. She said the medical costs are “outstanding.”

“There are so many other collateral effects,” Gregory said. “People losing jobs, family factors, children in foster care, the emotional piece.”

Gregory said Atrium recently received $11,000 in grant funds to obtain 150 Narcan kits, that include the drug used to reverse the effects of an overdose and educational materials. She said doctors at the hospital will prescribe the kits — valued at $72 each — to patients that could benefit, as well as help educate family members.

Efforts across Butler County to get a handle on the growing heroin problem have included formation of a county-wide opiate abuse task force; development of a Youth Heroin Prevention Initiative by Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser; formation of Heroin Control, a group for family members of addicts; and Hope Over Heroin rallies.

Gmoser said he’s visited students in Hamilton and Trenton schools alongside a handful of recovering heroin addicts that share their personal experiences with the students. He said a 54-year-old woman shared her story of once being a high school cheerleader but has since lost two husbands to her heroin use.

“The superintendents and principals were really quite amazed how quiet the audience was during the speaker,” Gmoser said. “Usually, there’s always a rustling, but during this program, (the students) were riveted.”

Gmoser said he believes it’s most effective to catch the young person before they start experimenting with highly-addictive drugs.

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