Heroin problem plaguing Warren County

Law enforcement officials are seeking tougher penalties for drug traffickers and employing new methods ranging from a special court to billboards to discourage the sale and use of opioids, the class of drugs such as heroin and painkillers, including hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl.

Still, social-service workers in the growing county say they are overwhelmed with the demand for assistance from the victims of addiction to drugs, particularly heroin and fentanyl, prompting annual million-dollar budget boosts in Warren County.

“Your 2017 budget is going to get blown up for one reason. That’s heroin addiction,” County Administrator Dave Gully told the county commissioners during a discussion this month with members of a task force formed last year to improve the county’s response to the problems attributed to drug addiction.

Commissioner Dave Young noted the county was facing a $20 million jail expansion, largely to hold those charged or sentenced in drug-related cases. Even the cost of autopsies has jumped as a result of nearly a quadrupling of overdose deaths.

Drug overdoses were listed as the cause of death in 40 fatalities in 2014, up from 11 a decade before, according to Tina Gregory, director of Emergency Trauma & Behavioral Health Services for Atrium Medical Center. The overdose death total jumped to 60 last year, according to Steve Arrasmith of the Warren County Drug Task Force.

The county has been named in a federal lawsuit filed by the family of an inmate claiming he died last fall because of inadequate treatment from heroin withdrawal in the jail.

“What we’re doing, it’s not working,” Young said.

County commissioners met recently with members of the Warren County Opioid Reduction Task Force, formed last year “to reverse the growing problem of opioid abuse and addiction in the county,” according to the group’s report.

Funded through a grant obtained by the Atrium Medical Center Foundation, the task force was formed in recognition that the urbanizing county between Dayton and Cincinnati was suffering from what has become a national crisis.

“Warren County, as many other counties in Ohio and across the nation, has seen double and triple-digit increases in opioid heroin overdose and the numbers of death related to these substances,” begins the report’s executive summary.

Gregory, who headed the task force, referred to research indicating 70 percent of the addiction cases start from use of prescription drugs at home.

Gregory also said the predominant profile for heroin overdose victims is white males, 24 to 35 years old.

The county, along with the contractor providing health care in the jail, is being sued by the family of Jason Pittman, a 25-year-old Morrow man with two young children who died in the jail last September.

“Society’s taking over the raising of these people’s kids is a big deal,” Young said.

The county is also faced about a $2 million increase for childrens’ services in 2016, the latest in a a series of 40 percent annual increases dating back to 2012, when drug law changes made prescription painkillers harder to get, officials said during the discussion.

The task force, made up of representatives from law enforcement, safety, health, education and social service sectors, set goals:

1. Increased access to treatment services, including transportation.

2. Formation of a rapid-response team.

3. More funding for treatment services.

4. Raise community awareness.

5. Prosecute highest-level dealers.

6. Develop treatment resource information.

7. Develop web site with reference material.

Gregory said the only place in Warren County where people can walk in for drug treatment is emergency rooms in the county. Still she said a wide range of services were available to treat drug addiction. These services needed to be coordinated and accounted for in informational materials for drug addicts and their families.

In addition, Warren County could benefit from collaborations with Middletown and Butler County, officials said.

“This is a problem that is going to be best solved if we combine all our services as much as possible,” Gregory said.

While complimenting the task force and Gregory, Young suggested the problem should be getting even more attention.

“We are trying to put a band aid on a cut when the arm’s cut off,” Young said. “I don’t know what the answer is.”

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