SIDNEY — Families are not the only was effected by the opioid crisis in Shelby County. The local agencies — from law enforcement, health department and counseling — have seen a changes in their departments.
“We have had to implement policy and procedures as to the protection of our deputies when dealing with illegal drugs for our patrol division and our jail. Our jail population has increased dramatically over the past three years. We have seen increased numbers due to the creation of Felony fives and with the state reducing their numbers in prison and sending convicted felony fours back to the County jails,” said Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart.
Sidney Police Chief Will Balling said his department has also seen changes because of the widespread drug abuse in the city.
“The widespread use opioids has had a drastic effect on our department,” said Balling. “Opioid abuse effects the user, their family, employers and also first responders that respond to the scene. From the law enforcement perspective we have to look at this from not only an enforcement aspect, but also for what we could do to help people overcome their addiction which is a new aspect for law enforcement.
“Our goal is to educate the public on the dangers of opioids, prevent opioids from coming in to Sidney and if they do locate them and get them off the street as quickly as possible, identify users and sellers of opioids and take the appropriate action, and then also work with users to try and get them the help that they need to overcome their addiction,” Balling said.
According to statistics from the Shelby County Drug Task Force, there were 138 overdose calls in 2017. In January 2017, there were 29 calls. The number dropped to 17 in February and again to seven in March. The number peaked at 32 in April and dropped once again to eight overdoses in May.
In June 2017, there were 15 overdose calls and that number dropped to four during the month of July. The overdoses rose again in August to 14 and September had 12 overdoes. The last three months of the year — October, November and December — had four overdoses each month.
Fifth percent of those who overdosed in 2017 — 75 people — had prior drug charges filed against them in Shelby County. One hundred nine of them had previous traffic charges in Shelby County, said Balling, while 117 had previous non-drug-related criminal charges. Sixty-two of the overdose victims had previous drug and non-drug-related criminal charges in Shelby County.
“There has been a drastic reduction in the number of overdose calls that we have responded to over the last six months,” said Balling. “I believe that this reduction is due to several reasons. Some of the reasons are the Work of the S.A.A.T program. Officer McRill and his team going out and making contact with overdose victim to try to get them the help that they need; the enforcement efforts of law enforcement officers across the county; the work of the Shelby County Drug Task force; individuals switching from opioids to meth; and private Narcan use.”
The average age of the overdose victim in 2017 was 37. The victims ranged in age from 20 years old to 62 years old. Ninety-seven percent of those who overdosed were white, while three percent were black. Sixty percent were men and 40 percent of overdose victims were women.
Sidney Fire Department Deputy Chief Cameron Haller said the fire department continues to serve its mission — preventing the loss of life.
“We clearly have been performing our mission,” said Haller.”We have documented a decrease in overdose responses. The users have changed habits to illicit drugs that do not directly affect their body’s drive to breathe.”
In 2017, said Haller, the department responded the 143 overdose EMS calls for service. Eighteen people repeated one time, while two people repeated three times.
“We have seen a decrease in the number of overdoses,” said Lenhart. “Having deputies assigned to Wilson Health has given us another avenue to measure by and we have seen a decrease in the number of OD’s in the emergency department too.
“I believe that due to the number of deaths resulting from overdoses, it has caused users to switch from using Heroin and Fentanyl to using meth and because of this switch it has reduced the number of overdose deaths,” said Lenhart.
Lenhart said his office has had one overdose victim that has overdosed numerous times.
Lenhart said his office’s budget hasn’t increase because of the drug crises, but they have taken steps to ensure drugs are not transported into the jail.
“Our budget has not increased due to the opiate crisis, but our expenditures have increased,” said Lenhart. “We purchased a body scanner for the jail for $118,000 and took a deputy off the road and placed them into the detective section to work solely on the drug issues.”
Balling said most of the drugs in Shelby County are being brought in from Montgomery County. Lenhart said his office has also seen drugs coming in the county from the Springfield and Columbus areas.
The Shelby County Drug Task Force has brought all the agencies dealing with drugs and overdoses together to try to find a solution to the crises in the county.
“The DTF allows organizations to come together to talk about the issues and work more as a unit then as individual agencies,” said Balling. “When we cooperate and share information we are able to help work at the problem from several different angles. This allows us to accomplish more than we could do on our own. One example of cooperation is when the DTF identified one need of Shelby County was to have other locations to have a prescription take back location. The DTF was able to work together and with Wilson Health, Shelby County Health Department, Rite Aid, and the United Way we were able to partner together to not only get a prescription drug box but also a drug incinerator to dispose of the medication properly.
“A group working together leaving their ego behind will always accomplish more than one person working alone,” said Balling.
Lenhart and Haller both agree the establishment of the Drug Task Force has had a positive influence on the county.
“I believe that one of the components of addressing the issue of opioid addiction is awareness, and I believe the Drug Task Force has done a good job of accomplishing this. I also believe that the formation of the Drug Task Force has brought together various partnerships and good discussion about the issues we face,” said Lenhart.
“The Drug Task Force is a great collaboration of resources and information sharing. The public town hall meetings have communicated the problem and raised awareness while fostering solutions to the current problem and avoiding future issues,” said Haller.
All agencies are working together to get the drug addicts treatment. But the problem arises that there aren’t enough local treatment facilities to assist with the addict’s recovery.
“In my opinion I do not believe there are enough or the right type of treatment facilities,” said Lenhart. “This is why we have fought so hard to establish a Transitional Treatment facility here on the grounds of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We are scheduled to break ground in May for the “STAR” house and I believe we will see a positive impact in a short period of time. The STAR house will give those addicts a place to live, supervision, and additional counseling that they need to transition from jail into society,” said Lenhart.
“The most frequent comment we hear from addicts who get out of jail, is that they get released and have nowhere to go but to return to where they were before they went to jail and end up in the same environment and subjected to drugs all over again. I believe the STAR house will contribute to the extended sobriety of an addict and will give them a place to stay until they are strong enough to fight the cravings. The STAR house will also allow for an additional 15 people to be working in our industrial base while they are in the STAR house,” said Lenhart.
Balling agrees with Lenhart that more facilities are needed.
“I wish we had more facilities closer to Shelby County for detox treatment for those who are addicted to drugs,” said Balling.
The change with how doctors are prescribing drugs is also helping reduce the addiction and overdose problem in the county.
“I believe the changes in the prescribing of narcotics by doctors has not prevented those on such drugs as Vicodin or Oxycodone from being prescribed those prescriptions,” said Lenhart. “The changes in the laws have tightened requirements of those physicians prescribing those drugs, by requiring the patients to have more frequent visits to the doctors due to not being able to prescribe refills without a written prescription.
“It also requires the patient to subject to a urinalysis to prove their taking the prescriptions as prescribed and not selling them,” he said.
“Overall, I believe the changes are good, but I believe it hasn’t eliminated prolonged use of those drugs, it has just required those that are not drug seekers to jump through hoops to obtain legal prescriptions,” said Lenhart. “In 2017 we had a big bust of prescription drugs, where over 1500 pills were confiscated, so I believe prescription drugs are still an issue and lead to the use of illegal street drugs.”
Balling agrees it has helped decrease addictions.
“I believe in theory that this has helped decrease addictions. It is hard to quantify and see the effect from this at this point, but in theory it will reduce the number of people who become addicted to drugs,” said Balling.
Lenhart believes more assistance is needed from the state and federal government in fighting the opioid crisis.
“For the past four years we have been impacted by the Opioid crisis and we have faced it head on and done everything we can without the help of the State.
We have a Governor who didn’t even acknowledge we had a problem; he took away local government funds, established unfunded mandates and left us out here to fight this without any help at all, all while he was running for president,” said Lenhart.
“While Gov. (John) Kasich and Attorney General (Mike) DeWine were grandstanding across the nation and Ohio, while running for their office of choice, opiate deaths have increased three times under the governor and attorney general’s watch,” he continued.
“If you look around the state of Ohio or our nation, you will not see one poppy field, this means the opioid crisis begins at our boarders. We have to fight this as a nation, since 1999 the number of people who have died from opioids has quadrupled and more than 500,000 people have died of drug overdoses between 2000 and 2015. In 2016 around 64,000 people died nationally and the numbers in Shelby County are just as astounding, with 41 Overdose deaths between 2014 and 2017. In October 2017 President Trump announced that the nation is in an opioid epidemic and has allocated $6 billion to help fight the opioid addiction,” said Lenhart.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.