EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two in a two-part series on the Heroin and Opioid Education Seminar held in Covington Monday evening.
COVINGTON — The Heroin and Opioid Education Seminar held in Covington Monday evening also addressed the social stigma for heroin addicts and the growing backlash for those who help addicts.
Led by the Miami County Recovery Council (MCRC), the seminar emphasized why recovery agency specialists, law enforcement agencies, and emergency services continue to care about heroin addiction as well as how those various agencies are working together to combat this issue through creating multifaceted solutions.
Growing backlash adds to stigma
“The worst thing that I think is affecting this is social stigma,” Community Outreach Specialist Amy Cost of MCRC said.
Cost and other panelists discussed an increasing backlash against the idea of helping heroin addicts in response to the growing frustration and exasperation at this issue. The panelists have come across community members asking them why they still continue to use multiple doses of Narcan to revive someone having an overdose, with some suggesting that heroin addicts should be left for dead if they suffer an overdose.
Diana Karnehm, a licensed and independent chemical dependency counselor with MCRC, has been in her career for around 28 years and also described herself as being an addict in recovery for over 29 years. Karnehm said that she recently encountered a family member who was unaware of her history as an addict and who questioned why health professionals continue to use multiple doses of Narcan on people who are overdosing rather than stopping after a couple doses.
Karnehm personalized the issue for that family member, asking if that family member knew how many doses health professionals had to use on her to save her life when she was using drugs over 30 years ago. Karnehm then asked that family member, “Would you have preferred them to allow me to die?”
“It disheartens me to hear people say, ‘Just let them die,’” said Jay Meyer, a lifelong resident of Covington, a recovering opiate addict of nearly 30 years, and an MCRC board member. “What if that was me?”
Meyer was a pharmacist when he became addicted to opiates. He explained how he got clean and relapsed three times before going through five weeks of inpatient treatment and then intensive outpatient treatment. Meyer also cited his spiritual beliefs and Christian faith as saving him from his addiction while also noting that he has to be proactive every day to not fall back into his addiction.
“There’s things I do every day — and I’ve been doing them for 29 years — so I don’t relapse,” Meyer said.
Panelists encouraged people to respond with compassion to negativity expressed online about the issue, as it is easy to become frustrated by the issue.
Where addiction begins
When asked about where heroin and opioid usage may start, panelists cited chronic pain and emotional trauma.
“I think the reason for me boils down to pain,” Dwight Richard, clinical director of Recovery and Wellness Centers of Midwest Ohio, said. Richard mentioned doctors prescribing patients with a large amounts of opiates or opioids and how the patients can become addicted to those medications.
“Research shows that physicians in a 10-year period of time increased their prescription of opiate pain killers by tenfold,” Richard said. “But also what we run across is emotional pain. Narcotics are phenomenal at numbing pain and emotional pain. The amount of trauma and child abuse and childhood abuse and neglect and sexual abuse and all that is amazing what you get into with someone who is using drugs on a daily basis, especially someone who is using opiates.
“They want to feel okay, and they’re using something to try and take care of the what’s not okay,” Richard said.
Karnehm also weighed in on how many addicts are people suffering from chronic pain.
“They are people who are real, legitimate chronic pain that have been cut off from their pain medications for various reasons,” Karnehm said noting that their provider may have realized their patient has a substance abuse issue or the patient’s insurance no longer cover the costs of those medications.
On the costs of prescription medications, Karnehm noted that it was easier to afford for some users to buy heroin and illegal drugs than to pain for their prescription medications.
“Many people, even in general society, know that you can get heroin on the street for a lot less than the purchase of prescribed medications,” Karnehm said.
Genetics also play a factor in people becoming addicted to their medication and/or other opiates or opioids.
“Also, there’s a group of addicts who have a genetic predisposition, so they already have substance abuse in their genetics — it’s in the family history, it’s been passed along from generation to generation — so that when they pick up one substance, they are more at risk to become addicted to another substance,” Karnehm said. “
Heroin and opioids are also so strong that almost anyone who takes them is at risk of becoming addicted.
“Opiates are a class of drugs that anybody who uses them over any length of time can and will become addicted, so it’s not just like street users. Anyone who is using an opiate can develop and will develop a physical addiction given time,” Karnehm said.
Working together on ‘comprehensive solutions’
“It’s a comprehensive problem, and it’s going to take comprehensive solutions,” Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak said.
The problem that local law enforcement runs into is how it is drug dealers outside of Miami County who are contributing to the local heroin epidemic.
“One of dynamics that’s changed as far as drug investigations is that we’re not seeing a whole lot of heroin dealers set up shop in Miami County,” Duchak said. “So we don’t have a lot of targets. It’s very cheap and plentiful in Dayton.”
Duchak also called for help from the federal government to address heroin and other illegal substances coming into the U.S. from overseas as well as from Mexico and Canada.
Locally, the response appears to be a combination of enforcing the drug laws as much as possible as well as emphasizing treatment to avoid more repeat offenses.
“The biggest detox centers in the 88 counties (of Ohio) is the jails,” Duchak said. There is also treatment assessment available in the jail. “I know at least locally, we’re doing everything humanly possible.”
Miami County Sheriff’s Office also deputies now have Narcan kits with them, and deputies have had 15 uses of those Narcan kits so far. Jordan Phillips, injury prevention coordinator of the Miami County Public Health Department, explained that residents can also get free Narcan kits from the health department through Project DAWN (deaths avoided with naloxone).
Karnehm said that MCRC has responded to the heroin epidemic by almost tripling their staff. The county also has a Quick Response Team. MCRC has also opened up a social or ambulatory home that is basically a detox and stabilization program. It is a six-bedroom house for men only.
Richard also went over new medication available called vivitrol, or naltrexone, which is medication that helps prevent relapses into drug abuse by helping with the cravings, but it does not have the addictive side affects of other treatment drugs like methadone.
Karnehm also said that there is a new bridge device that goes behind the ear of an addict that is used to help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal.
MCRC, the Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health, and the Recovery and Wellness Centers of Midwest Ohio also provide various treatment options, including hospitalization and inpatient treatment, recovery housing and detox programs, vivitrol/medication assisted treatment, counseling, and other substance abuse treatment.
Reach Sam Wildow at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3336