‘A different monster’ – Drug epidemic takes turn for worse

The drug epidemic is taking a turn for the worse in our region.

In Boyd County Kentucky, there were 32 heroin overdoses and five deaths in January. That’s three times higher than usual. October, November and December 2016 saw eight, nine, and 10 overdoses, respectively. There was one fatality each month.

In Lawrence County, Ohio, there were 38 overdoses and three deaths in January, almost double December's 21 overdoses, along with four deaths.

In Cabell County, West Virginia, the number of patients taken to the hospital for a suspected overdose as well as the amount of Narcan administered went up by at least 135 percent between the first three months of 2016 and the last three months. For example, in January, February and March 2016, there were 197 patients transported with a suspected overdose. But in October, November and December, there were 464 – an average of five people each and every day.

Officials like Boyd EMS Director Tom Adams and Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson hope it's a spike, but they fear it's the new normal.

"This is a true epidemic," Anderson said.

"This is a different monster," adds Adams.

Both men are talking about heroin.

"We cannot arrest our way out of this problem," Anderson said.

The large increase in overdoses became so noticeable, Anderson turned to Facebook with a video. He's asking addicts or their loved ones to call his diversion coordinator for help, even giving out a cell phone number.

The video has been shared 400 times and viewed 15,000 times.

He estimates that 95 percent of his criminal cases are related to drug or alcohol abuse.

Starting this month, officials will begin contacting people who have overdosed with drug addiction and recovery materials, knowing that it's likely only a matter of time before the addict becomes a criminal.

"We're receiving a good response from it," Anderson said.

What bothers him most about the issue is that the addiction is so powerful that addicts seek it out relentlessly, even when they know it can kill them.

“These are someone’s son, husband, brother, daughter, sister, that are so addicted to this substance that they are willing to die,” he said. “They know that’s a possibility, they have to know it’s a possibility when we have so many overdoses as we have.”

He's asking the state for a $500,000 grant to help start up a county drug court and provide other services.

He said his Prosecutorial Diversion Program, which began in April, is already a success. About 25 people are already involved. Two people are getting ready to graduate.

With an average annual cost per prisoner of $50,000, he believes taxpayers save money in a variety of ways, especially if graduates commit fewer crimes.

"We're trying to get out in front of the problem," Anderson said.

In Boyd County Kentucky, Adams said January was the second busiest month ever for EMS with 800 calls, including 32 for overdoses.

In December there were just 10, but two people required four injections of Narcan and four people required a double dose.

"I hope it's not a new normal," he said.

But if it is, it will be a big hit to the budget and take a toll on the staff.

One crew dealt with three overdoses, including one fatality, in a single shift last month.

"I hope it's not something that we're going to see monthly, because if it is, that's going to be a problem," he said.

"That's what we're trying to prevent,” said Anderson. “We have to get ahold of this problem."

Published by wsaz.com

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