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Law enforcement calls on community to join fight against drug addiction

By Joanne Huist Smith - Staff Writer

Escalating heroin and prescription painkiller abuse in Ohio drew state and local attention Wednesday, as officials from both searched independently for ways to stem the growing number of overdose deaths.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine held the first in a series of Town Hall meetings looking for strategies to combat the problem that can be replicated statewide. Locally, just more than 100 people attended a Town Hall meeting in Moraine organized by Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer to educate the public on the dangers of heroin.

“Heroin is turning into the new social drug. Younger and younger people are getting involved,” Plummer said. “It will kill you.”

Heroin, DeWine said, is in every county in the state.

“The number of deaths from overdoses continues to rise in Ohio. Prescription drugs and heroin are really driving it,” said DeWine at the Scioto County meeting. “We’re not going to solve this problem by just arresting people. We’re going to solve the problem by communities getting up-in-arms and getting mad and doing grassroots efforts.”

Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers seized 87 pounds of heroin between January 1 and October 20 this year, compared to 17 pounds during the same period in 2010, John Born, director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said at the Moraine meeting.

That 87 pounds equals 785,000 individual doses of heroin.

And, troopers seized 43,706 opiate pills through Oct. 20 this year, compared to 22,675 pills in 2010. The increases stem from more focused enforcement and a plentiful supply of drugs. Born said the state patrol has doubled its number of drug-sniffing dogs to 34, and increased training for state troopers.

“If your neighbor, your son, your daughter or anyone you love and care about is looking for a dose and they can’t get it, that’s a good day for you,” said Born, a guest speaker at the Montgomery County town hall meeting. “Unfortunately, opiates are extremely addictive, so our pill seizures continue to increase.”

Ohio’s greatest successes at disrupting the supply chain of drugs coming into the state have come from collaborations between law enforcement agencies and citizens, Born said.

“In order to be successful, we’re going to have to work together and work together well,” he said.

That’s what Montgomery County is trying to do. Plummer announced formation of a 23-member, Drug Free Coalition. The group will tackle opiate abuse and look at new illegal drugs as they emerge in the region and define ways to combat them. The coalition also will look at the effectiveness of addiction services.

Coalition member Helen Jones Kelley, executive director of Montgomery County’s Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board, said the coalition will raise the volume on a community crisis. ADAMHS will spend about $10 million on addiction services this year, most will fund out-patient and residential treatment. Prevention also needs to be part of the solution, Jones Kelley said.

“This coalition really has to focus on both ends of the spectrum,” she said. “How do we stop people from engaging in these behaviors?”

No matter the size of a community, opiates are a growing problem responsible for the expenditure of countless tax dollars, said Richard C. Rose, Clayton’s director of public safety and a coalition member.

“Exploring new avenues and partnering with a broad spectrum of agencies that are willing to work together to break the cycle can only be good for all of us,” Rose said.

Germantown resident Scott Weidle attended the local town hall meeting to learn why more isn’t being done in his community.

“If accidental drug overdoses outnumber motor vehicle accidents in Ohio, I want to know if we’re spending the same amount on heroin as we are on traffic safety.”

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