BY THE NUMBERS
Overdose deaths in Butler and Warren counties:
2014: 137 deaths
2015*: 115 deaths
2014: 42 deaths
2015*: 31 deaths
*January through June 2015
Source: Butler, Warren county coroner’s offices
Driving while impaired has now reached a new low — or high — depending on how one chooses to look at it.
For law enforcement, the heroin scourge that has Butler County and the country battling with addiction, is posing a new threat: drivers shooting up as they attempt to navigate the highways and streets in residential neighborhoods.
“The problem is everywhere, and we are seeing more people getting high on heroin…shooting up while driving,” said Sgt Ed Buns of the Hamilton Police Department. “Last week, we responded to two accidents we know for sure were heroin-related.”
The nature of what happened is quite surprising, police say.
“The driver passed out while the car was in gear, and he was doing circles in the roadway. He had the car in reverse and was doing circles in the street. He still had the needle in his arm when officers got there.”
Buns has loads of information littered across his desk regarding the latest “driving while drugged up” situation that law enforcement is dealing with. He explained that some of those addicted drivers have a false sense of indignation when they get caught.
“The woman drove her car onto the sidewalk on Belle Avenue,” he said. “She hit a fire hydrant and a stop sign and then went across Dixie Highway and hit a utility pole. Witnesses said it looked like she was having a seizure. She told officers and medics that she had been smoking synthetic marijuana because it couldn’t be tracked. They found a pipe in her car.”
Buns has been in law enforcement for 36 years, 32 of those in Hamilton. He said the battle now is to keep folks from shooting up while driving, but also to help the communities around the county battle the drug problem.
“It is cutting across all demographics and all parts of every community,” he said. “When a squad goes out on a run, you just assume it is heroin-related.”
Seeing these types of cases is believing for Buns.
“Last month I was out on the street and a call came in and I was close by so I followed up,” he said. “An older, bigger guy was laying on floor; he had been eating SpaghettiOs. The medics hit him with narcan, and he comes right up and admitted he had been doing heroin.”
Hamilton police Officer Eric Taylor has been monitoring the drug activity and those who pose a threat in and around the city in the drug trade.
“Heroin is destroying families and also the addicts are putting other people at risk,” Taylor explained. “Officers have seen drivers passed out at stop lights after using the drug with their car still in gear. The problem is a serious one, and it is nationwide.”
Taylor added that officers find themselves at risk when trying to arrest heroin suspects after traffic or drug busts because of the needles or syringes present.
“A lot of officers can get stuck by the needles and several have been when making an arrest,” he said. “I had a situation when I had to subdue a woman on a drug case and she slipped on a sheet of ice and cut herself and I received a cut too. An exposed wound with an infected person you come into contact with is a very dangerous and scary situation.”
For Taylor, he was fortunate to have been cleared medically, but his point is well-taken about the dangers of dealing with those under the influence of heroin.
“We really need to educate people on the signs and symptoms of recognizing heroin addiction so they can help loved ones…You have to see the symptoms and try to get them help,” he said. “I was dealing with a 63-year-old veteran who had been addicted for 40 years, and his veins had just about vanished.”
According to the Butler County Coroner’s Office, 85 people have lost their lives in heroin-related deaths in the first six months of 2015 — an increase of 29 deaths during the same time period in 2014.
Taylor and Buns said they were happy Hamilton police are now officially part of a new program aimed at helping get drug addicts treatment.
Wednesday morning Police Chief Craig Bucheit met with Jennifer Mason, a paramedic and Emergency Medical Services coordinator with Fort Hamilton Hospital to discuss and officially launch F.O.R.T. — or Fort’s Opiate Recovery Taskforce — which is modeled off a program launched in July by Colerain Twp. to proactively help drug addicts open to treatment.
“F.O.R.T. is a collaborative effort that allows us to identify overdose victims and intervene to help stem the overwhelming tide of repeat offenders,” Bucheit said. “It’s no secret that heroin addiction is destroying lives and families in every community in Butler County. I want to be abundantly clear that we will be relentless in our pursuit of those who profit from the misery and destruction sown by selling heroin.”