MIAMI COUNTY — As the heroin epidemic swept across the state of Ohio, Miami County’s first responders searched for solutions to reduce overdoses.
Instead of waiting for addicts to walk in for treatment, first responders and addiction and mental health specialists decided to try one option: to go out on the streets and knock on doors of addicts’ homes.
Flipping through pages of names and other data, members of the city of Troy’s Quick Response Team mapped out their weekly outreach stops at Troy Fire Department’s Station No. 2 last Wednesday.
Miami County Recovery Council’s community care liaison Mike Bessler updated the city’s QRT team, including Troy Police Department’s Capt. Shawn McKinney, Patrolman Hans Hohenstein and Troy Fire Department’s Greg Dilts on those they’ve ministered to before and those whom they should contact that day. Officers also reported to Bessler what they have heard about known addicts from their call logs and street patrols.
Bessler rattled off names on “who’s doing well” in their current treatment programs, those who are currently incarcerated and those who have continued with follow-up treatment through MCRC, drug court and other local treatment programs.
Red lines through names dot the pages of those who passed away from their drug addiction battles.
“Those are the ones that we couldn’t get to in time,” Bessler said, moving on to those he and the QRT would reach out to next in hopes of preventing more red lines throughout their database.
Before noon on the overcast day, the QRT team stopped at home located only a few blocks away from the police station. The team knocked on the door and waited.
A young white male wearing a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head came to the door and let them inside after speaking to them on the porch. Bessler later reported the subject, who overdosed just a few days prior, was courteous and appreciated their time.
Bessler said he let the subject know his options and that he, as an addiction specialist, “knew things weren’t going well.”
Bessler said his role is simple.
“We just let them know that we are there to help when they are ready,” he said. “He was okay with us stopping by and appreciated it. We let him talk about his health and he knows he needs to get back on track. We just reinforced to him that treatment is available and people are dying.”
“As we left, I stopped and told him I knew it wasn’t going well and told him ‘I’m here to help you,’” he said.
Reaching out to those in need
Modeled after Cincinnati’s Colerain Township Quick Response Team program, the city of Troy first began its own QRT team in October 2016. The team consists of a police officer, a paramedic and an addiction counselor who will visit the homes of those who have reportedly overdosed and connect the addict to treatment.
Bessler estimates the team has made 67 visits, but doesn’t have firm numbers of those visits that have resulted in some kind of treatment follow-up. Firm numbers are difficult to track due to the nature of detox and relapse within the system, he said.
Troy Fire Department Chief Matthew Simmons said he receives phone calls and emails from officials from around the country seeking information about how the QRT outreach is working in the city of Troy. Most recently Howard County, Maryland, expressed interest about how the program was working in Ohio.
“Folks around the country are looking for ways to help combat this issue and this is just one of many programs out there trying to help this population,” Simmons said.
Troy’s QRT program also was featured in a Washington Post article last July, when Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones drew national attention by publicly announcing he wouldn’t allow his deputies to carry Narcan, the opioid blocker treatment.
“The goal is to get them in treatment,” Chief Simmons said.
Fifteen months later, the QRT model has piqued the interest of police and fire officials from cities and municipalities across the country who also are searching for ways to get a grip on the addiction.
Bessler’s role on the QRT is supported by the Upper Valley Medical Center’s benefit grant to connect recently discharged patients with access to treatment options within 30 days.
Last July, Piqua Chief of Police Bruce Jamison also launched the Protect Recovery Program. The program works with the PROTECT Piqua Board, MCRC and other organizations to try to remove barriers to treatment and recovery for drug-addicted residents.
Addicts are given the opportunity to have a HEART — Heroin Education and Addiction Recovery Team — meeting. HEART is composed of police officers, Piqua Fire and EMS personnel, recovery specialists, a chaplain for a faith-based perspective if desired, and a pharmacist. This team also has contact with overdose victims after every reported overdose to offer them help and access to resources. Addicts can also have a recovery mentor assigned to them, which often includes addicts who have seen a successful recovery.
Jamison has said the police department is committed to getting drug dealers off the streets in addition to this new team to help drug-addicted people. City of Piqua Manager Gary Huff noted that the department’s implementation of predictive policing by creating a community crime map and increasing patrols in areas with increases of crime has led to reductions in crimes.
“If you look at the crime statistics from … 2015 to 2016, we had a 50 percent reduction in robberies, a 15 percent reduction in property crimes, and a 5 percent in violent crimes,” Huff said. “We’re having some impact. We want to keep that trend going.”
Chief Simmons and Capt. McKinney said their personnel’s time is paid for through a grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The grant expires in June 2019. Patrolmen rotate to assist on the QRT team to reduce the burden of overtime.
“The word has been spreading within the heroin community that the team is there to help, so families are more willing to reach out when looking for assistance,” Chief Simmons said.
Bessler said when the QRT started, six people were transported to treatment or reconnected with a program. The number is slowly growing and is dependent on those willing to start the detox process, which is often the main reason addicts are reluctant to seek help.
“We are trying to make a dent in this,” Bessler said.
Bessler also said the QRT helps battle “compassion fatigue” when first responders themselves become numb to the those they are helping.
“First responders get to see them not in crisis,” he said. “They see these folks with their families and it builds an awareness that we are here to help. It gives people on all sides of this a different perspective.”
Bessler also said the QRT meets with families in the homes that house addicts and connects them with resources available to them.
“We are there knocking on their doors. Parents will break down crying because it’s hard on them, too. We’re there to support them and connect them with services and support groups.”
Hope Over Heroin events
In 2016, the Miami County Heroin Coalition began leading a committee to coordinate resources for the first Hope Over Heroin event. The two-day event, held at the Miami County Fairgrounds in July 2016, featured recovery resources for addicts, family members and community members.
Hope Over Heroin is a Cincinnati faith-based organization that formed after 14 deaths from heroin overdose occurred in one week in Hamilton County in 2014.
During that first event, more than 40 churches, 30 social service organizations and 300 volunteers reached out to the community.
“It’s not just for addicts. It’s for families of addicts. It’s for our community, for us to come together and stand together as we rage war against the heroin/opiate addition and substance abuse. This is an open event and we are encouraging everyone to come because we want to stand together as a community,” said Upper Room Worship Center Pastor Aaron Simmons, who also is a Troy firefighter/paramedic.
“There is hope to overcome this disease and addiction. There are resources, churches and agencies willing to help. We are looking for Hope Over Heroin to be a catalyst and a launching pad for all the churches and resources getting together.”
A subsequent event was held in Piqua in August 2017.
Miami County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Dave Duchak said the Hope Over Heroin events are a great way to get the county’s resources together to help combat the heroin epidemic that has swept the county in the last several years.
“Hopefully, it is educating the community that there is a real problem, not only in our community, but nationally. We all have to work together to eradicate it,” said Duchak, a member of the Miami County Heroin Coalition.
“We felt that so many different disciplines in Miami County are fighting this and that we needed to get all of us in one room and coordinate better,” Duchak said. “With all the people who are fighting this from law enforcement to medics to hospitals and mental health professionals. We met monthly in our training center and we’ve learned a lot.”
The coalition has accomplished several initiatives, including a system of care and resource guide, and the training of a local doctor to administer Suboxone, a medication to treat opioid addiction. The sheriff’s office road deputies also have been trained to become equipped with supplies of Narcan, the opioid antidote.
For more information about the Hope Over Heroin organization, visit www.hopeoverheroin.com.
Reporter Sam Wildow contributed to this story.