Record number of Ohioans die from heroin overdoses

A record number of Ohioans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2012, the state Department of Health said as it released the newest available figures for a problem that’s been called an epidemic and a public health crisis.

More than 100 people died a heroin-related death across the Miami Valley in 2012 and 33 occurred in Butler County, according to statistics the Journal-News obtained from the county coroner’s office.

Middletown police have said heroin is “as common as water” in the city and that paramedics are responding to at least two or three possible heroin overdoses every day.

“I thought crack (cocaine) was awful, but heroin is different,” Middletown police Lt. Scott Reeve told the Journal-News in an interview earlier this year. “I don’t recall anyone dying from a crack overdose.”

Law enforcement officials say heroin is affecting people of all races and sexes, from the wealthy people to the low social economic areas.

The state said 680 people died of heroin overdoses in 2012, up from 426 deaths in 2011, a 60 percent increase, according to data released Friday.

The heroin increase also drove the overall number of fatal unintentional drug overdoses to a record of 1,914 deaths in 2012, up from 1,765 the previous year, the department said.

In 2012, five Ohioans died every day from unintentional drug overdose, or one every five hours, the department of health said.

Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix said there has been a 139 percent increase in the number of drug overdose deaths from the first quarter of 2013 to the first quarter of 2014. So far this year the coroner’s office has investigated 114 total cases and 50 of them have been attributed to drug overdoses, Mannix said. Eleven cases involve heroin and an additional 10 cases involve heroin combined with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to, but more potent than, morphine.

The state said the number of fatal prescription painkiller overdoses decreased for the first time since 2003, a drop attributed to a statewide crackdown on pill mills and the overprescribing of pain pills.

Heroin addiction has been increasing as prescription painkiller abusers turn to the cheaper and more readily available drug.

“What we’re seeing is a significant number of people moving to a more acute phase of their addiction disorder,” said Orman Hall, director of the state Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team.

A decade of unrestricted prescribing of painkillers led to an addicted population, which in turn led to the heroin problem, said Christy Beeghley, program administrator for the Health Department’s Injury Prevention Program.

Fatal drug overdoses remain the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, above car crashes, a trend that began in 2007.

Ohio is not alone in high numbers of heroin deaths. In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick last month declared a public health emergency in response to heroin overdoses and opioid addiction. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin dedicated his entire State of the State address this year to the problem. Minnesota authorities have seen a tenfold increase in the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction.

Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the heroin deaths an “epidemic” and created a statewide investigative unit to crack down on heroin dealers. U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach in Cleveland has labeled the problem a “public health crisis.”

To some living in Butler County, the latest numbers are a cause for concern.

Middletown police responded last month to the Riverfront Motel at 432 Tytus Avenue where they found Amanda Martin, a mother of two, unconscious on the bathroom floor of a motel room after she allegedly used heroin. Her two sons, who were playing video games in the motel room, were “very visibly upset, screaming and crying, stating that their mom overdosed on heroin,” according to a police report.

Martin has been charged with three counts of child endangering, possession of drug abuse instrument needle and possession of drug paraphernalia for the heroin capsules, burnt spoon and tourniquet. She is scheduled to appear in Middletown Municipal Court on May 9.

One of Martin’s sons told officers “that this is not the first time they’ve observed their mother use heroin.” The boy told police he has had to “physically restrain his mother and take needles from her to prevent her from injecting herself with heroin,” according to a police report.

Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner Recovery Services, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment center in Hamilton, said, unfortunately, stories like Martin’s are becoming all too common.

“My hope is she gets help and there’s a good possibility that she’ll end up in this facility. And if she gets custody of her children back, they could come to this facility with her and maintain a family unit,” said Gehring.

The Hill is a 16-bed, all-female facility located at 294 North Fair Avenue in Hamilton. It is the only facility in Butler County that allows women to bring their children to treatment with them.

“A lot of time your motivating factor is your children; nobody wants to be a bad parent,” said Gehring. “So when you have your children with you, and you’re able to maintain that family unit, it really helps break the addiction.”

Gehring called heroin a “full blown epidemic in Butler County,” and said most women like Martin have “no intention of hurting their children, but unfortunately this is the end result.”

Midway through 2011, Ohio enacted a law meant to reduce the number of pills-on-demand clinics where many addicts were receiving pain pills under questionable circumstances Authorities are optimistic that a law that took effect last month increasing access to a drug overdose antidote will reduce the number of deaths.

Regardless, drug rehabilitation experts said there are actions affected people and families can take to rid a heroin addiction.

“It’s never late and there is treatment, and there are people that are much more specialized and knowledgeable about addiction now that they can help almost anybody, at any time,” said Dr. Jack Gouda, Wright Path Recovery Center.

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