Opiate use in Wayne County on stark rise

Use and abuse of heroin, fentanyl and other opiates are on the rise across the county, even in the villages. And that increased consumption locally has led to a spike in overdose deaths and the use of Narcan.

An Aug. 20 conference in Wooster on the opiate epidemic yielded some startling revelations about what is occurring daily.

The prevalence of opiates has led to a surge in overdose deaths, said Dr. Amy Jolliff, the county coroner.

In 2013, her office had five overdose deaths. That number ticked up to six the following year.

But in 2015, her office had 15 overdose deaths through August.

"We cannot afford to have people get to me," she said during the conference, as the coroner's office only has two employees. She pushed for continuing to educate children on the dangers of opiates. But also warned of middle-aged individuals who are turning to heroin or other opiate-based drugs.

Seven of the overdose deaths this year were individuals age 50 and over.

"We cannot focus only on the 20-year-old," she said.

Jolliff pointed out while Wayne County has seen an increase in overdose deaths, usage figures regarding Narcan, a medication

administered nasally to revive people who have stopped breathing from an opioid, helps paint the rest of the picture.

Narcan's only medical purpose is to revive people after they have used an opiate, such as heroin, said Don Hall, director of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency. He led the push to get his agents equipped with the nasal cartridges and helped other law enforcement agencies acquire them, too, such as Creston Police Department.

"Obviously without Narcan, we'd probably have several more deaths on our hands, I guarantee that," said Creston Police Chief Bryon Meshew. "It's not going away anytime soon."

In the village, Meshew said, there have been 16 overdoses through August and in five of those cases Narcan was administered. There has been one overdose death -- a man in his 50s -- in the village, Meshew said. On that call, he said first responders were notified too late to try to revive him.

Through all of last year there were 11 overdoses in Creston.

The chief said the spike in heroin and opiates in Creston has a direct correlation to thefts.

"We just had a rash of thefts last night," Meshew said. Thieves grabbed anything they could find in unlocked cars along Carter Street. Two weeks ago, the same thing happened on Coulter Street.

Through August, there have been 33 theft calls compared to 29 in all of 2014.

While Hall said his agents have yet to use Narcan, squads across the county have carried it for quite some time.

"We've carried Narcan for several years," said Andy Baillis, EMS chief in Rittman. "But just in the last two years, we've noticed a large increase."

Baillis said in the month of June alone Rittman squads had to administer Narcan eight times; and three in both July and August. He estimated 10-15 uses of Narcan per quarter is typical for his squads.

In all of 2014, Rittman squads used Narcan 30 times.

Baillis said Rittman squads cover the entire city population, plus some areas of Milton Township for a population of approximately 7,900 people.

For comparison, Assistant Fire Chief Nathan Murphy said Wooster Fire Department squads administered Narcan 30 times in all of 2014; and 32 times through the first eight months of this year. Wooster's population is just over 26,000 residents.

"(Those are) really some telling numbers right there," he said.

"It has been working," Baillis said, as Rittman squads have not had any overdose deaths yet. "However, we've had more and more that have taken multiple doses (of Narcan). That tells me the strength of the drugs may be a little different."

Meshew echoed that concern, as every single time Creston PD has used Narcan both doses were needed. He credited Hall for pushing to get the double-dose kits.

Meshew added this has led to officers having a completely different experience with overdose victims, where instead of seeing people aggressive after Narcan is administered they are groggy and appear like they were awakened from a deep sleep.

Baillis surmised his squads are seeing either stronger heroin, or heroin laced with fentanyl, an opiate roughly 50 times more potent than heroin.

"We're all experiencing the same thing across the state," Baillis said, based on his experience as a member on a few EMS boards.

Wayne County Prosecutor Dan Lutz said during the conference he has been tracking the case-load his attorneys are working that are related to heroin and other opiates.

Since May, Lutz said his office presented 105 felony cases to the grand jury; 34 of those cases were related to opiates in just a four-month span. The cases varied from possession and trafficking cases to burglaries perpetuated by individuals seeking to feed their addictions.

Lutz said this does not account for the hundreds of cases in Wayne County Municipal Court related to opiates.

And, Lutz said over 25 percent (21 cases of 76 total) of child neglect cases his office has filed in Juvenile Court have been initiated to remove children from homes due to parental opiate use.

By STEVEN F. HUSZAI  @the-daily-record.com

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