- Rick McCrabb Staff Writer
Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins plans to ask City Council for $100,000 to help fund heroin addiction programs throughout the city.
Adkins’ announcement came Monday morning during the seventh Heroin Summit, a series he formed last year to address what has been referred to as the region’s “heroin epidemic.”
The estimated cost of the programs is $242,000, he said, and about $60,000 to $75,000 has either been donated or promised from non-profit agencies and church groups that Adkins met with in January and February.
Of the 189 drug overdose deaths last year in Butler County, 149 — or 79 percent — were heroin-related, according to the county coroner’s office.
Last year was the second straight year drug overdoses were the leading cause of death among cases accepted by the coroner’s office. The 189 deaths were a 38 percent increase above 2014’s record-breaking number of 137, according to the coroner’s office.
But at the same time, Adkins said the city is making strides and has seen a drop in crime and the number of Narcan doses administered by paramedics.
Compared to 2014, the city saw a 12 percent drop in police calls in 2015; 17 percent drop in serious crimes; 15 percent drop in thefts; and nine percent drop in arrests, according to Adkins.
The number of court cases in Middletown Municipal Court was the lowest in 21 years; the number of misdemeanor cases the lowest in 18 years; and the number of felony cases the lowest in five years, he said.
“We are heading in the right direction,” Adkins told the group assembled for Monday’s summit.
He also said that paramedics reported a reduced number of Narcan uses in the third quarter of 2015. Adkins estimated the city spent about $1.5 million dealing with the heroin epidemic last year.
Middletown Municipal Court is seeing success with its Vivitrol program, according to Steve Longworth, the court’s administrator. Of the 56 inmates in the program, 50 of them received a Vivitrol injection and were placed in treatment programs the next day, he said.
“That’s pretty good success,” he said of reaching 89 percent of inmates.
Those who provide addiction and recovery services said they have seen first-hand the damage heroin has done in the community, and they do not anticipate a decline anytime soon.
In the 1960s, heroin users were usually men who started using around an average age of 16. They were most likely from low-income neighborhoods, and when they turned to opiates, heroin was their first choice.
Now, more than 50 years later, a study from The Journal of the American Medical Association paints a very different picture of the average heroin user.
Today’s typical heroin addict starts using at age 23, is more likely to live in the affluent suburbs and was likely to have been led to heroin through painkillers prescribed by his or her doctor, according to the study.
Drugs typically have a five- t0 seven-year cycle, but heroin, which has been a problem in the area for about seven years, is “gaining momentum,” said Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner, a Butler County mental health and addiction services provider.
Of the 450 clients receiving treatment at Sojourner, either as outpatients or residents, 396 — or 88 percent — are addicted to heroin or opiates, he said.
People become addicted, he said, even when they know the dangers.
“They want to stop,” Gehring said. “They know their next use could be their last. What’s really sad, these people dying are our neighbors, our children, not somebody in an alley.”
To see a drop in heroin deaths, three steps have to be taken, according to Gehring. In addition to addicts embracing treatment, the flow of drugs into the United States has to stop and health professionals, educators and public safety officials need to stress the dangers associated with heroin, he said.
By getting people into treatment, he said, “it gives them their life back and lets them keep their life.”
Ron Ward, founder of Celebrating Recovery, a grass-roots organization in Middletown, said in the first two months of the year, about 30 addicts have been placed into treatment, a number that could quadruple with the necessary funding and advertising. The group meets Thursdays at Triple Moon Coffee Co. on Central Avenue, and every week, Ward said people are being placed in recovery.
“We are making a difference,” he said, adding, “We can’t do this by ourselves.”
Melissa Schwarber, executive director of the Center of Hope for Women and Children, a homeless shelter, said all the agencies were caught off guard by the heroin epidemic.
“None of us anticipated this,” she said. “Not to this level of addiction. We thought there would be isolated cases here and there, but we never saw this.”
Adkins has scheduled the next heroin summit for June 27 because by that time he hopes to have some additional data and crime stats to see if the program has reduced the number of heroin deaths.