- Denise G. Callahan Staff Writer
Butler County first responders aren’t just administering Narcan to drug addicts who overdose, Heroin Response Teams in Hamilton, Middletown and Oxford are on the streets encouraging addicts to get help.
The county’s two largest cities launched heroin response teams in 2015 to reach overdose addicts in response to an overwhelming number of overdose deaths from heroin. The teams target individuals who have overdosed and try to pull them into sobriety.
So far this year Hamilton first responders have treated 330 overdosed addicts and Middletown 303.
The Middletown team reports a 55 percent success rate of getting addicts at least through the door of a treatment facility, according to Capt. David Von Bargen with the fire department there.
“The first success to this process is connecting them to the treatment,” Von Bargen said. “Out of the 208 people we’ve made contact with 55 percent of those individuals walked through a treatment door.”
He said when they started the HRT they asked people in the field what would be a signal they are successful.
“They said if you can just get 10 percent of the people you talk to, to come into treatment that would be unbelievable.”
Jennifer Mason spearheaded the effort in the county after her son Kyle Thompson overdosed in 2008.
“Back in 2008 I found myself in the emergency room with Kyle and his overdose and did not know where to turn…,” Mason said. “Now I was involved in public safety with Hamilton fire and EMS and I was in law enforcement, I was their SWAT medic and it was just amazing I would be faced with this problem and did not know where to go. I had all this stuff going on in my head, where do I turn. What just happened. There weren’t many resources back then in 2008.”
She heard about a Heroin Response Team operating out of Colerain Twp., got some information and approached people at Fort Hamilton Hospital where she works and convened a large group of stakeholders to discuss the idea. In the beginning the volunteer team — including Mason, a police officer and an addiction specialist — was going out about every six weeks. But after the coroner’s report, they increased their efforts.
“I sent it out to several people including Chief (Craig) Bucheit. He called me back within three minutes and says ‘what are we going to do’,” Mason said. “I said how about one day a week, can we have somebody (a police officer) for that and he said absolutely,”
With referrals from doctors, nurses and others at the hospital and contacts that Officer Brian Wynn has on the streets, the Heroin Response Team visits addicts who have overdosed to offer them ways to get clean and help them get into treatment programs.
The team provides addicts and their family members with a pamphlet that offers places where treatment is available and other information about addiction.
The Hamilton team also selects four or five people a week they can get directly into treatment, they call it the “Golden Ticket” program.
“There are indeed waiting lists through the partnership and the discussions we’ve had with the recovering community is they want to seize that moment of clarity the person has because it’s fleeting, it’s like a swarm of bees, it’s here for one second and gone after a recent overdose,” Mason said. “That is a critical time to get someone into treatment within 48 to 72 hours.”
Middletown’s program is very similar only they cull addicts names from police and fire overdose calls, people who call into the Heroin Hotline and now they are also working with Atrium Medical Center, according to team and hotline coordinator Lindsey Ervin.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, we just kind of got in the car, had a list of addresses,” she said. “The first day we showed up and people were crying, families were crying and you’re like wow, they’re happy to see us which we did not think would happen.”
Ervin said she and a police officer and paramedic make up the team and they go out weekly as well. They are in the process of hiring two full-time people — her salary and the new people are funded by grants. Last week they contacted 27 people in a three to four hour time span.
Amy Parker, a West Chester Twp. resident who has been clean for five years, would like to join Middletown’s HRT. The 35-year-old mother of two — she signed over custody of her 13-year-old daughter Chloe when she was a year old to her parents because of her drug use — said her habit started with pain killers from seven knee surgeries when she was a teen.
She progressed to injecting heroin with the help of a bad boyfriend, but then five years ago on March 17 she woke up with no heroin or needles, no money but the certainty she was finished with that life. She signed herself into a clinic in Indiana and has been clean ever since. She wants to b able to help others see the light.
“I’m hoping by being a person in recovery I’m able to touch people on a different level, a level that most others wouldn’t be able to do, by simply saying I’ve been there, I’ve been in your shoes and know what you’re going through and I also know how to help you,” she said. “I think patients might find a sense of comfort, less judgment and might be able to feel they can take treatment a little easier.”
The city of Oxford started its HRT in October of 2016 after handling 39 overdoses the prior year. Sgt. Lara Fening said she, a paramedic and drug addiction specialist — arranged by Mason — make up the team but their overdoses have dropped off to next to nothing so they haven’t actually been out on a run yet. So far this year the fire department has responded to eight overdoses.
“For some freakish reason we have not had many overdoses with the exception of the two deaths that we had,” Fening said. “Is it possible that our residents are overdosing in Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield? Yep. Because that’s why I’m wondering why we’ve had this reduction. I don’t know that we’ve done anything remarkably different.”
Fairfield Vice Mayor Bill Woeste said the opiate task force there is also considering forming an HRT. Fairfield first responders administered Narcan to 108 people last year and 45 this year.
Wynn said their work on the HRT is important but something also has to be done to shut off the supply of drugs that necessitates programs like this.
“The stuff is going to get here one way or another but you’ve also got to have penalties for people that are selling the stuff and selling basically pretty much a loaded gun to somebody and saying here pull the trigger,” Wynn said. “That’s what’s happening.”