© 2021 The Statehouse News Bureau
RSS
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Crime/Law Enforcement

Attorney General Convenes "Emergency" Meeting As Heroin Crisis Rages On

Hundreds of cops, deputies and recovery experts packed a church in Columbus for what the Attorney General called an “emergency” meeting on heroin.

It’s standing room only in the sanctuary of Mt. Hermon Missionary Baptist Church, and it’s nearly silent, as hundreds watch a video on the state’s heroin crisis.

“I overdosed a dozen times, and was brought back with naloxone twice.”

That’s Nicky Kelly of Cleveland, talking about how the overdose-fighting drug naloxone saved her life two times. More than 12,000 doses of that drug were administered in Ohio just last year to people in the throes of death because of heroin or other drugs. And Kelly’s message of survival is one that Attorney General Mike DeWine wants all law enforcement officers to hear. DeWine said there are no numbers yet on opioid overdose deaths from 2015, but he thinks the rate of growth in those deadly overdoses may be leveling off. “Not that we’re going down, but we’ve slowed that curve down maybe a little bit,” DeWine said. “If that’s true, it’s only true because of naloxone. It is not because we don’t have more people overdosing. We do have more people overdosing. We’re just saving more of them now.”

DeWine convened this gathering, which he called an “emergency meeting” on heroin, to send the message that he wants all cops and deputies to carry naloxone – especially those in rural areas. Some law enforcement units have been reluctant, wanting to leave it to EMS and paramedics, or suspicious of a drug that revives an abuser who can just go back out and potentially overdose again. But naloxone is catching on. Police Chief Richard Biehl’s officers carry it in Dayton, which has seen a five-fold increase in overdose calls from 2012 to 2015. Biehl said naloxone is only part of the solution to a problem that has its origins in what he calls the “irresponsible” prescription and use of hard-core painkillers. “Clearly, changing medical practices has been and is part of this remedy,” Biehl said, and added: “We need to get information on the ground, at the community level, where individuals are impacted with this directly – not only to recognize it when it exists to get treatment available immediately, but also to work on the prevention end of it.”

And while the opioid problem is bad in urban and suburban areas, it’s just as devastating in rural areas too. Michael Heldman is the sheriff in Hancock County in northwest Ohio. Findlay is the largest community in that county of 75,000 people, and Heldman says when 20 people die in a year, that’s a big deal. And Heldman said when addicts are arrested, the problem isn’t over. “Once we start seeing heroin deaths in jails, that’s hard,” Heldman said. “So what we have to do is instruct and work with our jail staff to be more observant of what people are bringing into the jails. People have ways of hiding things that you wouldn’t believe.”

Heldman says incoming inmates are now being searched by walking through a surplus airport scanner that the county has acquired. There are other ideas being shared, such as treating drug overdoses as opportunities to help addicts and not as crime scenes. This meeting is one of many that have been held over the last few years. And some fear time is growing short. Recovering addict Nicky Kelly, who was featured in the video that started the event, said the time is now to deal with heroin. “It’s everywhere. And it’s getting younger and younger and younger. I’ve known kids who are 14, 15 years old using, overdosing, dying,” Kelly said. “And it’s not hard to get. You don’t really even have to be looking for it. It’s just everywhere.”

Drug overdose deaths in Ohio hit an all-time high of 2,482 in 2014. That’s almost 7 Ohioans a day, or one about every three hours.