OTTAWA — With opiate and heroin addiction reaching epidemic proportions across the U.S., several officials in Putnam County are ready to hit back at the problem head on.
Several speakers spoke on combating the problem in front of a full house, with more than 300 people in attendance at the Putnam County Educational Service Center on Monday.
Andrea Boxill from Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office said it was important to put the whole issue of the epidemic in perspective.
“In 1961, the most common reason for seeking medical attention was heart disease and cancer,” Boxill said. “Today, it is back pain and other pain issues.”
Boxill said that in 2004, there were 14,000 heroin-related deaths in the U.S. In 2014, that number more than tripled to 46,000. Judge Chad Niese of Putnam County Municipal Court said the problem is evident in court.
“When I first took the bench in 2005, I never had seen what I knew to be an opiate or heroin addict,” Niese said. “I started noticing when people started testing dirty for pills.”
Niese said that the epidemic is reaching into homes where people would not expect it.
“They are generally employed folks, young folks, college students,” Niese said. “I even had one mother that left her kids rather than go to rehab. I asked one mother why she was doing this. She said it was because she had to.”
Two recovering addicts spoke of how hard the addiction is to overcome. David Von Almen said he would always be an addict and that it is a battle every day. Von Almen has been clean for 18 years. The Lima Senior High School graduate said he lost his wife and children to addiction.
“I didn’t fit in anywhere in school and I wanted to be cool,” Van Almen said. “I started drinking every day. I joined the Army and was introduced to hash. Later it was diet pills, speed and acid.”
Van Almen said the eventual progression ultimately led to a phone call from his wife on Oct. 26, 1997.
My wife called and said if you don’t get out of the house, I am calling a sheriff,” Van Almen said. “My 8-year-old daughter had asked her mom to find her a new daddy. They were scared of me.”
Another recovering addict, Bryan Lesniewski, said the addiction progresses very fast and you find every way to get what you need.
“I remember calling my doctor and telling him I bumped the cabinet and lost my Percocets down the drain,” Lesniewski said. “I called him again and said someone stole them out of my car. He eventually caught on to what I was doing.”
However, county officials are set on stopping the problem, and are willing to do whatever is needed. Elaine Kiene from Pathways Counseling Center spoke of services offered there, and Belinda Brooks, the mayor of Luckey and mother of a recovering addict, talked about a group she had started called Solace aimed at helping families to help loved ones with addictions. Brooks said a chapter will be starting in Lima soon.
Assistant Putnam County prosecutor Todd Schroeder said recovery courts such as now in Allen and Hardin counties were a possible solution.
“It is a chronic relapsing condition that is resistant to rehabilitation,” Schroeder said. “Short-term incarceration is not the answer.”
Schroeder said for recovery court to be a possibility, the current system would need to be changed and funding would be needed. For instance, he said the probation department would have to be beefed up.
“We would have to have better oversight with probation,” Schroeder said. “We couldn’t test them every two week. We would have to be able to test them every day.”
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” said North Baltimore Police Chief Allan Baer. “What I have learned is that these are good people making bad decisions. We need to look for better answers.”
More information on discussing the opiate/heroin problem was handed out and can be found on the website http://starttalking.ohio.gov.
Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or at Twitter @LanceMihm.