A national ranking with Dayton topping the list of “most drugged out cities in America” didn’t come as a shock to those dealing with the local opioid crisis.
“The report is not surprising,” said Bruce Langos, who tracks the county’s overdose calls as executive director of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Intelligence Center. Emergency personnel responded to 556 overdoses already this year through May 15.
“I have met with many addicts and with family members who have lost loved ones who are all devastated by this disease,” said Langos, who is also chairman of the Montgomery County Drug Free Coalition, which is trying to get funding for an on-demand treatment program called “Front Door” that would target heroin and fentanyl users whose lives have been saved by Narcan.
Dayton has steadily gained a reputation as an opioid hub. A grant proposal for the Front Door project told the story of a user brought back to life through Narcan. The man referred to the city as “Dope Sick Dayton” and said he expected to die waiting for a bed at a treatment facility.
Andrea Hoff, director of prevention and early intervention for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) board of Montgomery County, said positive steps have been made by the city and county officials, law enforcement and the health department, but addiction is a complicated disease and Dayton has some obstacles other Ohio cities don’t face.
“I wish it were just one simple reason, but there really isn’t,” she said. “We’ve looked at Dayton in comparison to urban communities across Ohio and tried to figure out why we are different than others.”
When ADAMHS studied the problem in 2010 two factors stuck out, Hoff said: widespread job losses following the Great Recession and cheap drugs made more accessible because of the intersection of interstates 70 and 75.
“Our unemployment has been far greater than other communities have experienced,” she said. “If you think about how that plays into a person’s mental well being you can make a correlation with drug use.”
The list of most drugged out cities was derived from 2014 Centers For Disease Control and Prevention data and state public health records, according to ArrestRecords.com, which describes itself as a criminal justice and crime portal devoted to compiling data and information on public policy.
Overdose deaths in 2014 claimed 264 lives in Montgomery County — a record high for the county. The number of deaths dropped in 2015, but recent reporting by the Dayton Daily News revealed that the county is on pace to exceed the 2014 total based on drug overdose deaths in January and February of this year.
Two other Ohio cities were in the top 10 nationally for per-capita drug deaths: Cincinnati at number six and Toledo at number 10. Akron and Cleveland also made the list, at 15th and 25th respectively.
“It’s really sad and shocking to see how this opioid epidemic is destroying lives across the country,” said Jennifer McDonald, an ArrestRecords.com analyst.
It’s not clear exactly methodology was used by the group, as the study purports to include cities with a population of more than 400,000 people. Although Dayton’s population is far under that, the newspaper was able to arrive at a death rate similar to what the group had for Dayton by plugging in the county’s population against the number of deaths. An email to an Arrestrecords.com spokesperson seeking clarification about the study’s methodology was not returned.
Whatever the ranking is, those touched by opioid epidemic say far too many people are dying.
“People like me and families dealing with this know how grave the situation is,” said Lori Erion, founder of the local support group Families of Addicts.
Erion, whose group was established in November 2013 and has meetings throughout the area, said politicians have responded slowly to the crisis.
“We know pain pills have a big thing to do with it,” she said. “We know people are dying. We know Narcan saves people. We know there are huge wait lists and it’s work to get into treatment.”