|Cure for heroin epidemic is elusive|
|Thursday, March 06, 2014 10:00 PM|
BY ANNE COBURN-GRIFFIS
PUTNAM COUNTY — On Nov. 18, 2013, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced his office’s Heroin Unit which will include investigators, lawyers and drug abuse awareness specialists, will assist in combating issues associated with the heroin epidemic, such as crime, addiction and overdose deaths.
“New data our office has gathered suggests 11 people die in Ohio every week from a heroin overdose,” said Attorney General DeWine. This data collected from 47 Ohio coroner’s offices showed a 107 percent increase in heroin deaths among more than half of Ohio’s counties.
There have been no heroin-related deaths recorded in Putnam County in the last five years, according to Putnam County Coroner Anna Horstman.
Ohio Congressman Lynn Wachtmann (R-81) isn’t so sure about that: “Even if the coroner is correct, there are family members who are robbing their loved one’s blind to feed their habit. A lot of times, particularly in rural counties, the coroner will choose to not call it what it is to avoid embarassing the families. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will this year.”
Wachtmann chairs the Health and Aging Committee for the Ohio House of Representatives. Last spring, Ohio House Speaker William G. Batchelder (R-69) appointed a special task force, the Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Legislative Study Committee, to travel around Ohio to learn about the opiate addiction problem. Wachtmann serves on that task force chaired by Congressman Robert Sprague (R-83) of Findlay.
“The number of heroin-related deaths reported in Ohio mostly happen in urban areas where you don’t have the local influence of family,” said Wachtmann. “Most people don’t realize how big and how devastating this problem is, even in God’s Country—Putnam County.”
According to Doug Engel, Chief Deputy with the Defiance County Sheriff’s Office, multiple heroin-related overdoses and deaths are being seen by the Putnam, Defiance, Williams and Fulton counties multi-area narcotics task force that he commands: “There are overdoses of heroin, or the overdoses are going to be caused by a mixture of drugs mixed in with the heroin: phentonol, morphine, oxycodone, oxycotin. And some of it is just bad heroin.”
Engel said that area addiction treatment organizations are seeing a huge increase in people coming for help.
Pathways Counseling Center, Ottawa, has seen an uptick in heroin addiction. Pathways Director Aaron Baumgartner reported that drug and alcohol counselor Monty Montgomery is relieved when he sees someone who doesn’t have heroin as their drug of choice. “I asked Monty, ‘What’s the big deal about heroin?’ He said that the problem with the heroin addiction is coming off the substance is very difficult for the person because of the side effects, of the withdrawals.”
Montgomery said that in most cases, to get the person off the substance successfully, some sort of medication replacement therapy is necessary. If heroin is removed from the body, it must be replaced with a drug that is prescribed and managed by a physician.
That means the resources to help the person that is addicted [to heroin] are much more extensive, perhaps even harder to find. He wasn’t aware of a heroin replacement therapy program closer to Putnam County than Findlay or Dayton.
Wachtmann, Sprague and the other members of the opiate investigation task force are pursuing funding in tandem with Governor John Kasich’s administration to remedy the shortage of comprehensive treatment for heroin and other opiate addictions. According to Wachtmann, families who have a loved one with this addiction problem cannot find treatment, either because they can’t afford it or because there are just no beds available.
“We’ve really focused on the treatment side, which is generally a massive failure,” said Wachtmann. “There are best practices that we know work. Most short-term treatments don’t. This won’t be done quickly but we have a plan in place that will create long-term housing around the state to get them out of a bad environment so there is hope for recovery.”