EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one in a two-part series on the Heroin and Opioid Education Seminar held in Covington on Monday. Part two will be in the Thursday edition of the Daily Call.
COVINGTON —“It was something you saw on television.”
Heroin and opioid addiction — which Chief of Police Lee Harmon of the Covington Police Department recounted Monday evening as what was once almost a non-issue for their small community — is now an every day problem. Even with some of the highest trends seen this year in regard to the heroin epidemic, local law enforcement and recovery agency specialists have not given up hope and are, instead, combining efforts to face this overwhelming health crisis.
The Miami County Recovery Council (MCRC) led a Heroin and Opioid Education Seminar, featuring a panel discussion, in Covington Monday evening to educate the public on and discuss how heroin is affecting the community. Approximately 100 community members attended the event held at the new Covington K-8 School.
Community Outreach Specialist Amy Cost of MCRC, a veteran who spent 25 years in the Air Force, began the seminar by discussing how her experience as a disabled veteran outreach specialist first introduced her to the health crisis in the form of a veteran who was also a heroin addict.
“I was pretty shocked there was a veteran doing heroin,” Cost said. “I basically tacitly dismissed him … and then I met more and more.”
She went on to meet nine more veterans addicted to heroin, inspiring her to look more closely at the issue. The ninth veteran whom she met who was an addict had been deployed three times, twice to Afghanistan and a third time to Iraq. In Iraq, the veteran was injured by a roadside bomb, and as a result, “he had been given huge amounts of opioids,” Cost said. It was through becoming addicted to his pain medication that the veteran then got addicted to heroin.
Veterans are particularly vulnerable to becoming heroin or opioid addicts. Cost explained that about 60 percent of deployed veterans and 50 percent of older veterans suffer from chronic pain.
Cost went on to explain differences in the drugs, particularly opiates versus opioids. Opiates are narcotics derived from opium, such as heroin and morphine. Opioids are narcotics that are at least partially synthetic and not found in nature, such as Oxycontin and other synthetic chemical compounds like fentanyl and carfentanyl, the latter of which is used as a tranquilizer for elephants.
Cost also explained that addicts start going through withdrawal symptoms or become “dope sick” after six hours without use of heroin or opioids. Then, while continuing to detox, addicts go through seven to 10 more days of “terrible flu-like symptoms,” which include chronic muscle pain, nausea, diarrhea, and more, Cost said.
“Their resilience in facing those factors is very minimal,” she said.
Cost added later on that most addicts are more afraid of going through withdrawal than they are of death.
Injury Prevention Coordinator Jordan Phillips of the Miami County Public Health Department later discussed trends in Miami County in reference to heroin overdoses.
“Certainly, in the last few years, we have seen a rising trend in the amount of opioid overdoses,” Phillips said. For comparison, Phillips used 2014 as their baseline year, which had approximately 20 overdoses reported to emergency rooms that year.
“In 2015, we started with 30 (overdoses), and in 2016 we doubled that and we started with 60,” Phillips said.
In January of this year alone, Miami County had over 100 reported overdoses. Phillips noted the overdoses reported may not necessarily be related to heroin and/or opioid usage, as the Miami County Public Health Department does not always have a way of distinguishing what drug-related overdose is caused by which drug.
Phillips then noted that Troy and Piqua are leading the way in how many people are reportedly overdosing in those cities, but the problem is still reaching everywhere in the county.
“Covington had 30 drug interactions in (2016),” Phillips said. “So this problem isn’t just in Troy. It’s not just in Piqua. It’s here in Covington as well.”
The rate of people overdosing per 1,000 people in particular zip codes also showed that the heroin epidemic is not just an issue in Troy and Piqua.
“The West Milton zip code has the highest drug interaction per 1,000 people in the county, and that’s followed by Ludlow Falls, Piqua, Troy, Covington, and Tipp City,” Phillips said. “If you look at population, Tipp City has 4.85 overdose incidents per every 1,000 people. Tipp City has almost 10,000 people.” In Covington, with almost 3,000 people, there is a higher rate of 5.51 overdoses per 1,000 people.
In regard to who is using heroin and opioids, Phillips said that it was almost even between male and female users in 2016. For 2017, there is a trend with about 70 percent of users being male and 30 percent of users being female. The age group with the highest amount of cases is people aged 25 to 34, followed by 35 to 44-year-olds.
“We are seeing an increase in the younger age group, the 16 to 24-year-olds, and that’s what’s concerning,” Phillips said. “The youngest we’ve seen in Miami County is 18.”
The county also saw approximately 20 overdose deaths in 2016, which the county has already surpassed for this year with approximately 22 suspected overdose deaths. Phillips said that the health department is anticipating approximately 70 overdose deaths for this year.
As the trends continue to become overwhelming, Harmon remembered how in his first 15 years in his law enforcement career, there was a time where the Covington Police Department dealt with heroin. Now, “it’s just an every day occurrence,” Harmon said.
Even if there are not overdoses occurring every day, their community is still dealing with other criminal aspects of the heroin epidemic, including thefts, bad checks, and burglaries committed to fund drug habits.
There was also one week recently when two people in Covington died from suspected overdoses this year.
“They weren’t terrible people,” Harmon said, explaining that the Covington Police Department had previous run-ins with these two people. “They were just guys that had a problem.”
“It’s just never-ending,” Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said. “In 30 years of doing this, it’s unprecedented.”
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336