Last updated: August 25. 2013 12:34AM - 261 Views

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DELPHOS — Officers enter a home. Inside, they find heroin, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and numerous hypodermic syringes. For law enforcement officers, it's a scene that plays out all too often across the region.Contrary to conventional wisdom, the scene doesn't just play out in large cities. The drug culture, heroin and opiates in particular, is taking its toll in smaller, rural cities such as Celina, Delphos and Kenton.“For many, many years our issue was marijuana, and then that converted. Then from 2002 to 2008, we saw a fair amount of crack in town,” said Chief Kyle Fittro of the Delphos Police Department. “Then 2009 the landscape really changed. That's the first time we saw heroin in Delphos. Since then, it's been a steady decline of all the other drugs and a steady incline of heroin and opiate-based pain pills, to the point now that our drug agents that are in town buying drugs are almost surprised if they buy cocaine of any type.”The point was reinforced for Fittro early last month when officers in Delphos, along with members of the West Central Ohio Crime Task Force, raided a home at 209 E. Fourth St. in Delphos. The afternoon raid was the ninth drug-related search warrant executed in Delphos since November.“It's not just Delphos,” Fittro said. “The whole area is awash in opiate-based problems.”The opiate epidemicThe region is no stranger to drugs or drug-related issues. It's a problem statewide, too. A report from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction shows that in 2011 more than 20,000 people were committed to the state prison system. Nearly 25 percent, more than 5,100 people, were locked up for drug-related offenses.The report shows drug offenses as the second-leading category of crimes for which people were incarcerated in 2011. Crimes against people, excluding sex crimes — offenses such as assault, robbery, domestic violence, felonious assault and murder — led to slightly more people entering the prison system with more than 5,300 commitments.Heroin and other opiate-based drugs helped lead many people to state prison.“Our region has been exceptionally hard hit by the opiate epidemic. Not as hard as the southeastern counties, but Hardin County is noted to have among the highest rates of death from opiate use in the state,” said Phil Atkins, associate director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties. “I think maybe they were 10th or 11th out of 88, so that's not good.”A report from the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services illustrates the problem of opiate abuse in the state. The report shows that since 2007, unintentional drug overdoses were the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio. Fatal and nonfatal poisonings cost Ohioans more than $3.6 billion annually, according to another report from the Ohio Department of Health.“It has literally stood the treatment industry on its head. It has turned us upside down,” Atkins said. “I was an alcohol and drug counselor starting in 1988. We saw crack come. We saw methamphetamine come but never anything as pervasive as this opiate epidemic. Probably the thing that differentiates it most is the prevalence and the fact this has infiltrated more sectors of society and people, regardless of socioeconomic class, regardless of education level.”The issue has become so prevalent, the mental health and recovery services board hosted a town hall meeting in May bringing together law enforcement, judicial, business and treatment officials to talk and share ideas about how to address the numerous problems it presents.During the May 21 session, Jed Metzger, president and chief executive officer of the Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce, told attendees a series of surveys and forums with local employers revealed a disturbing trend about the devastating impact opiates have had in the workforce.“One of the areas that came forward was that employers couldn't hire employees because they couldn't pass the drug test. We heard that over and over and over again,” Metzger said. “I had a trucking company that actually interviewed 104 applicants and only two passed the drug test. It is a problem with businesses today more than ever.”Chief John Vermillion, of the Kenton Police Department, said like Delphos, his department has seen a stark change in the drug cases they handle.“We've always had drug issues. Our task force, unless it's large quantities, doesn't spend a lot of time working marijuana cases,” Vermillion said. “At one time it was crack and cocaine, and most of that was coming out of Lima. About two years ago, we saw a huge increase in heroin use. We have some individuals from Hardin County that make six, sometimes up to 12 trips a day to Columbus buying heroin.”Origin of the problemWith his experience in law enforcement and tracking the cases in Delphos, Fittro said the origin of the changeover from cocaine, crack and marijuana to heroin and opiate-based prescription medicine abuse seems to correlate to the rise of the availability of high-powered opiate pain medications, such as Oxycontin, Oxycodone and Fentanyl.“I don't think the world realized the power of Oxycontin. When I say the world, I mean the doctors, the prosecutors, the cops, the judges, the lawyers, all these people within the system did not realize the power of this drug,” Fittro said. “Doctors prescribed it very freely for minor complaints of pain. People were out there stealing prescription blanks, and prosecutors didn't really want to prosecute, the cops weren't really looking for it so you ended up with this whole segment of the population addicted to opiate-based pain pills.“Then the world caught up because we're seeing all these spin-off crimes. We're seeing robberies. We're seeing homicides. We're seeing lots of burglaries, thefts and assaults because of these addictions. The doctors scaled it way back, the cops started looking for it, the prosecutors started prosecuting it, and the judges started sending people to prison for it.”As the supply of pills began to be harder to get, those who became addicted switched to heroin, which was easier to find and cheaper, Fittro said.Chief David Slusser, of the Celina Police Department, said while his department hasn't necessarily seen the correlation between heroin usage and opiate-based prescription medicines, heroin is cheap, available and a problem in the city.“People have to realize that as the mobility of society and communications capabilities that society has, there is no place that is safe from the drug culture and drug abuse. It's part of society in music, communications and the entertainment world,” Slusser said. “We're not going to block the world out. People are going to see it and understand the effects people claim it has on them. It's going to be here. Kids are going to experiment. Adults are going to experiment.“We're never going to close ourselves off from the world and keep the drugs out. We have to address the fact they're in our community. We have to deal with fighting them here and now and not with the thought we're safe here and we can keep them out. Accepting the fact we have to deal with drugs in our own community and fight drugs in our community is probably the first step to doing something about it.”Doing something about the epidemicThere is movement statewide trying to get a handle on the issue of opiate drug abuse. The state already has a system in place that requires all pharmacies in the state to track and upload information on who is getting prescribed certain powerful medications, how much they have been given, who issued the prescription and where it was filled. The system is designed to enable other pharmacies to identify potential abuse issues and refuse to fill potentially fraudulent prescriptions.In early May, Gov. John Kasich and representatives from the Governor's Cabinet Opiate Action Team announced the establishment of statewide opiate drug prescribing guidelines for emergency departments and acute care facilities.“This is a really big deal to be able to get the emergency rooms to agree that they're going to enter a protocol so that we're not going to allow to go in there, get these prescriptions and be able to sell them,” Kasich said. “This is a huge step, and I can't tell you how happy I am that the urgent care people raised their hands and said, ‘We want to be a part of it.'”The guidelines, established with the input of a number of statewide medical, health care and pharmacy groups, include a general approach to prescribing but don't replace clinical judgment.The move was hailed by one such group.“Ohio hospitals appreciate the leadership of Gov. John Kasich and the broad collaboration he has fostered among state agencies, hospitals and other providers to advance goals of consistent guidelines for the prescribing of opiates in hospital emergency departments,” said Mike Abrams, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio Hospital Association. “Handling this challenge with statewide agreement allows hospitals to present a united front — encouraging those in chronic pain to work closely with their primary care physicians while discouraging dangerous, drug-seeking behavior that is part of the addiction epidemic Ohio is working to break.”Atkins said from a treatment perspective, the focus is shifting from the old model of hospital inpatient programs to a combination of short-term detox, opiate replacement therapy, counseling and sober living programs.“It's that sober living environment that is really important,” Atkins said. “I know in reviewing many of the cases we've had, the ones who make it are the ones who hang out in sober living because they do break that cycle.”Fittro has used his personal time and money to launch a website, ChiefTeach.com, designed to help get the word out to parents, teachers and others about the dangers surrounding drugs and warning signs when someone may be struggling with an addiction.“A lot of adults think they are drug-savvy,” Fittro said. “Times have changed quite substantially, and this is one small effort at drug prevention through education.”


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