No ground zero in opioid fight

5:43 p.m Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017 Local
Chris Stewart
Dana Jenkins, 28, was among hundreds to overdose on opioids and die in Montgomery County during 2016. In April, Jenkins was living in recovery housing operated by the Holt Street Miracle Center. She died on June 23. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Jamie Haddix and Darrell E. Morgan were found dead at the same address on the same day — Christmas Eve. Both are suspected of overdosing on opioids, the all-encompassing term used to describe heroin and its more lethal cousins.

The place where they died, an apartment in a four-unit building on Wiltshire Boulevard in Kettering, isn’t ground zero in the region’s opioid crisis because there is no ground zero.

New information from the Montgomery County Coroner’s office shows an alarming increase in suspected drug overdose deaths in 2016 — more than in any prior year and exceeding 2015’s total by nearly 100 deaths.

But it also shows the reach of the crisis. No part of the county was spared, including Brookville, Centerville, Germantown and Oakwood. Although Dayton by far had the most deaths, with 167, more than half of the suspected overdoses in the county occurred outside of Dayton.

A little after 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Harold Budde was rattled by pounding on a door across from his apartment on Wiltshire Boulevard. Through his peephole Budde watched police struggle to enter his neighbors’ locked apartment.

“It sounded like they wanted in pretty bad,” said Budde.

Out his front window Budde saw the coroner arrive. Then, after a time, the bodies of Haddix, 34, and Morgan, 54, were carried out of Apartment B. Both may have lay dead for days from probable overdoses.

“Even in real nice neighborhoods — Oakwood and nicer places — it’s still a big-time epidemic,” Budde said. “It doesn’t matter if you live down in the east end — bad parts of town — stuff happens anywhere these days.”

Prevalent killer

The youngest to die last year — 2-year-old Lee Hayes — was felled by an overdose of fentanyl, an increasingly prevalent killer.

Up to 50 times more potent than heroin, fentanyl was mentioned as a primary or contributing factor in 181 of 278 autopsies completed by Jan. 4, an astounding number given that officials only began noticing it on the streets at the end of 2013. Opioids of all types were confirmed for at least 238 of the 278 deaths.

”Whether it is knowingly used or not, illegally made and distributed, fentanyl is potentially so potent that one dose the size of a grain of salt is deadly,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director, Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services.

RELATED: More potent drugs raise stakes in Ohio’s fight against opioids

Lee Hayes was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital about 8 a.m. on Sept. 29. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office started an investigation into how the Harrison Twp. toddler got a hold of the drug, but Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer said Thursday investigators have little evidence to work with.

The oldest victim is probably an 87-year-old woman from Brookville. Although an overdose is suspected in her death, her case is one of 77 that is awaiting an official determination by Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger.

Last year’s estimated toll of 355 deaths represents a 37 percent increase over 2015. Harshbarger said the final numbers, expected by early March, will not likely fluctuate significantly. If anything, he said, remaining toxicology tests may push the number higher.

More than 80 percent of those confirmed or suspected of dying from an overdose last year were white. Men accounted for 63.4 percent.

Of the 130 women who died, one was featured prominently in a front-page story in the Dayton Daily News last April about recovery houses for opioid abusers.

Twenty-eight-year-old Dana Jenkins had tried to kick her heroin habit many times, she told the newspaper, and was seeking long-term residency in a sober-living house where roommates and a staff member provide peer support.

Typical treatment programs are too short, she had said.

A month or so after the story ran, Jenkins told Walter Gilbert she was ready to live on her own and left the recovery house operated by the Holt Street Miracle Center in Dayton.

Gilbert, the center’s executive director, said she went to live with a boyfriend. The boyfriend, he said, was the one who found her dead on June 23, just a few weeks after she left the treatment program.

The coroner ruled that Jenkins died of an overdose of heroin.

RELATED: Houses seen as crucial to recovery, but some neighbors unconvinced

“She just was a bubbly person looking forward to life and full of life,” said Gilbert. “Lo and behold she’s another victim in our community, another victim of heroin and fentanyl. I’ve been around this problem for 22 years … and I’ve never seen the rate of death and overdose I’ve witnessed in the last two or three years.”

‘We can’t go into every room’

As if fentanyl isn’t frightening enough, 2016 will be remembered as the year a chilling new threat was introduced: carfentanil.

The extraordinarily powerful elephant tranquilizer — minute quanties of which can kill if they are absorbed through the skin or inhaled — was determined to be a primary factor in two of the completed Montgomery County death reviews. In July, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office warned police agencies against handling or field testing street drugs that could contain dangerous levels of fentanyl or carfentanil.

RELATED: Extra-lethal heroin raising alarms throughout Ohio

Of the 355 deaths in the county, the highest number occurred in single-family homes (150) followed by apartments (79). Sixty-five died in hospitals. One person was reported dead from an overdose in an alley, another on a roadway and another in a parking lot of a funeral home.

Haddix and Morgan weren’t the only people to die on the same day in the same residence or hotel room. Three other locations had two people die that way. And seven other locations had more than one death but on different dates.

A Miami Twp. hotel, the InTown Suites on Kingsridge Drive, had three people die from overdoses during the year.

Miami Twp. Police Capt. John Magill said the hotel was the subject of 53 police reports in 2016, including the three overdoses.

The hotel’s extended stay business model tends to attract those whose lives intersect with drugs — people between 25 and 45, lower income, and predominately white, he said.

“The same kind of people wind up being victims of these drug overdoses,” Magill said.

Magill said the department works to address the issues with hotel management and leaves educational material for residents in public spaces.

But if someone wants to use opioids, he said, there is little his department can do to stop them.

“Despite our best efforts we can’t go into every room. I don’t have that number of officers,” Magill said. “And even if I did they don’t have that kind of authority to go into people’s rooms and stop them from shooting up heroin.”

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