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The Fight Against Heroin In Ohio And Hamilton County

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Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Gov. John Kasich speaking at an opioid summit in Cincinnati.

Ohio is trying to get a handle on opioid abuse. New numbers show overdose deaths are rising.

Speaking in Cincinnati Thursday to a group of judges and other high ranking officials from nine states hit hard by heroin, Ohio Governor John Kasich says it's easy to see how we got into this situation: the over-prescribing of dangerous drugs.

He remembers how getting your wisdom teeth pulled used to be resting at home and eating ice cream.

"Today, you go get your wisdom teeth out and they give you 25 Oxycontins," he says.

Despite the number of overdose deaths statewide totaling more than 3,000, Kasich believes Ohio is turning the corner. He's calling on neighboring states to follow Ohio's lead in reducing doctor and pharmacy shopping. He says, in Ohio, 81 million fewer pills are being dispensed now than in the past couple of years.

The Ohio Department of Health says fentanyl continues to fuel the increase in heroin overdoses. Fentanyl is very strong and used to treat severe pain. It can be prescribed legally, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting an uptick in the use of illegally-made fentanyl as a filler in heroin.

The Hamilton County Heroin Coalition and Cincinnati-area police are currently investigating a large spike in the number of heroin overdoses. They theorize a batch of heroin currently being sold may be tainted with illegal fentanyl.

Creating Countywide Response Teams

Hamilton County Commissioner Dennis Deters plans to ask fellow board members to approve funding for countywide heroin response teams. The program would be based on the one implemented a year ago in Colerain Township where Deters used to be a trustee.

"This pairs a police officer with an EMT and a treatment professional to visit individuals who have recently overdosed," says Deters. The police, the EMT, and the addiction specialist literally go to a home and ask questions (like) 'Do you want help?' They're also able to discuss the events of the overdose (like) where the drugs came (from), so there's a multifaceted approach to this visit."

Deters says communities that can commit an EMT or paramedic to the team will be provided with support from the Sheriff's office.

"When people are asked, the response is overwhelmingly 'Yes, I want help.' So what we're doing in that case is giving someone a chance to get out of the system, refocusing resources, (and) pulling someone out of the cycle of addiction."

He'll ask county commissioners to provide funding for the teams in the coming weeks.

Cincinnati Police have indicated they are interested in implementing such a plan. Norwood and Middletown have recently created similar quick response teams.

Job And Family Services

A surge in heroin overdoses in Hamilton County this week is affecting emergency services. But Job and Family Services Spokesman Brian Gregg says, for them, it's business as usual.

"This is not really unusual for us. I mean, I know it's unusual for the community," he says. "We get about 25 calls a day, and often times those calls are related to substance abuse. We've kind of handled the current epidemic in the same way we would handle any other day where we're getting a lot of calls."

Gregg says several cases involved victims with children.

"If heroin is the underlying problem, we'll get that family involved in a substance abuse treatment program while we keep the kids either with a relative or a family friend, or as a last resort, foster care."

Gregg says at least half a dozen of the overdose calls authorities responded to between Tuesday and Wednesday involved children. He didn't know if any had been taken in to foster care.

A bigger wave may be coming for Job and Family Services.

Gregg says heroin is very insidious, because even if an addict seeks treatment, it takes a long time to kick the habit. He says that taxes the social services system.

"It involves a greater length of time and a greater amount of money to be spent on services to get someone clean and to get them to the point where they can take their children back."

Gregg says that means kids and parents are separated for a longer period of time, and that's hard on both.

"A parent who's an addict and is trying to stay straight only for their child, and then doesn't have that child in their life, they've sort of lost that incentive to keep straight."

Gregg says foster care is a last resort for children. He says if the children can't stay with parents, JFS case workers try to find a relative or family friend who can care for them.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.
Bill Rinehart started his radio career as a disc jockey in 1990. In 1994, he made the jump into journalism and has been reporting and delivering news on the radio ever since.