Is the overdose epidemic on the cusp of improving? Middletown is seeing positive signs

In just 27 days sitting on the bench, Middletown Municipal Court Judge James Sherron has seen the impact that drug abuse — what he called “on the verge of catastrophic” — has had on the community.

To reduce the number of overdoses and those addicted to heroin and meth, Sherron is taking steps in his courtroom. Last week, when defendants faced a drug charge and after they told the judge they were “drug free,” he ordered drug screenings.

Of the eight tested Friday, most came back positive for drugs in their system, Sherron said. He called the screenings “the moment of truth.”

RELATED: The overdose epidemic comes at a massive cost

He also has placed drug treatment providers in his courtroom and encouraged them to interview potential clients who are defendants. He wants those addicted to drugs in treatment by 5 p.m. that day, and if they’re not, they risk going back to jail, he said. The goal, he said, is for them to seek “immediate treatment” after their release from jail or instead of incarceration.

“It’s a communal effort,” Sherron said after attending the 12th Heroin Summit on Friday morning at Atrium Medical Center. “It’s not just one agency addressing it. That’s what it’s going to take to overcome it. It’s at the cusp of getting better.”

The statistics back of Sherron’s claim. In March 2017, there were 149 overdoses in the city, said Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw. But in the last four months, the overdoses have averaged 50 per month, he said.

And last month, for the first time, the Heroin Response Team, comprised of police officers, paramedics and social workers, had no cases to follow-up, said Maj. David Birk.

Muterspaw mentioned the case late last year when Jemita Sanders, 31, a mother of nine, overdosed in her kitchen on Yankee Road. She was left to die by two men, Jim Boyer, 63, and his son, Keith Boyer, 32, who also stole cash she hid in her wig, Muterspaw said.

The Boyers were in the residence for the “majority of the day,” abusing pills, heroin and alcohol with nine children, ages 1 to 14, present, according to the court complaint.

After the Middletown Division of Police led a project to collect Christmas gifts for the children, Muterspaw said some residents were critical, saying the woman made a choice that led to her death. Instead, Muterspaw said he concentrated on her nine children.

“That shows you the direct impact of what we are dealing with,” the chief said. “It’s not going away. It’s still out there. We have to stay on top of this 100 percent. We’ve got to keep this fight going.”

Birk said he recently received a report from Bureau of Criminal Investigations that said agents bought a new drug through a controlled buy in the Canton/Akron area. He said the agents bought BDPC, estimated to be 10,000 times the strength of morphine. It can’t be detected by canine officers because they haven’t been trained on it, Birk said.

“They are finding other ways to get high,” he said of the addicts.

By the Numbers

Costs of heroin epidemic for Middletown taxpayers in 2017:

$2.3 million: The overall cost to Middletown taxpayers in 2017. It is the approximate amount Middletown plans for paving in 2018.

$1.92 million: The overall cost for police services that were opioid-related.

$1.5 million: The overall cost to Middletown taxpayers in 2015. No calculation was made in 2016.

$199,300: The overall cost to taxpayers for Middletown EMS responses, Heroin Response Team, Narcan and other drugs and medical supplies.

$110,000: Approximate costs for Middletown Municipal Court services in opioid-related cases.

$62,000: For police overtime costs for patrol officers, narcotics officers, detectives and canines.

$57,000: Costs for syringe exchanges and Narcan syringes used in 2017.

$45,000: For court time paid to police officers in drug cases.

$14,725: Costs to the city for indigent burials.

2,970.5: Number of milligrams of Narcan administered by Middletown EMS in 2017.

1,501: Number of syringes used by Middletown EMS in 2017.

966: Number of opioid-related overdoses in Middletown in 2017, up from 532 in 2016.

798: Number of individuals who received Narcan from Middletown EMS medics.

430: Number of hours used by fire and police personnel on the Heroin Response Team preparing for and working in the field.

250: Number of people referred into opioid treatment by the HRT.

77: Number of opioid-related fatal overdoses in 2017, up from 74 in 2016.

$23: The discounted cost for one dose of Narcan.

$6: The cost of medical care and supplies to administer Narcan.

2: The number of milligrams in one dose of Narcan.

Source: The city of Middletown

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