The overdose epidemic is shifting in Dayton, and there are several reasons why

8:08 a.m. Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 Local

The opiate crisis is not just ravaging white neighborhoods. It has spread to all corners of the community.

Overdose calls have skyrocketed across Dayton, with the bulk originating from the east side of the city, according to police data.

But Dayton’s west side actually has seen a more dramatic increase in overdose calls in recent years, underscoring that the opioid epidemic has spread from predominantly white neighborhoods to predominantly black ones.

Though the U.S. opioid crisis has disproportionately impacted white Americans, it has hit people of all races, backgrounds and income levels.

But in a positive sign for Dayton, the number of overdose calls have declined every month since peaking in April, officials said.

“It’s too early to say we’ve turned the corner … but clearly the last four or five months have seen a positive trend,” said Dayton police Chief Richard Biehl.

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Through October, the city received 2,031 police calls for service for overdoses, which is up nearly 80 percent during the same period last year, city data show.

Overdose police calls — requesting police, fire or EMS to respond to a scene — come from all corners of the city. But they are not evenly distributed across its geography.

Staff Writer
Dayton Fire Department medics prepare to transport an overdose patient who was revived with Narcan to a hospital emergency department in October 2016,. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

This year, about 64 percent of service calls originated from the eastern half of the city, which is covered by the Dayton Police Department’s East Patrol Operations Division.

The East Patrol area has accounted for nearly twice as many overdose calls than its western counterpart.

The police department’s two other operations divisions are West Patrol and Central Patrol.

The west side has many predominantly black neighborhoods, while white residents far outnumber minorities in east side neighborhoods.

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But since 2014, overdose calls for service have increased by 189 percent on Dayton’s west side, which is 21 percentage points higher than the increase on the east side, police data show.

Police say the epidemic has spread out from the its center and primary place of origin on the east side.

Drugs of choice vary between communities, based on supply, personal preference and historical usage, said Jodi Long, director of treatment and supportive services with Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services (ADAMHS).

Research shows Caucasians had more access to prescription opiates because they have higher rates of health insurance than minority groups, Long said, and generally emergency room doctors also were more willing to prescribe opiate meds to white patients than minorities because of perceptions white patients were not seeking drugs to abuse.

The growth in overdose calls in west Dayton is likely tied to more drugs like crystal meth and crack-cocaine being laced with opiates and fentanyl, Long said.

Dealers lace other illicit drugs with fentanyl and opiates to make them stronger and produce a more intense high, while also increasing the chances they’ll get users addicted, Long said. Drugs purchased on the streets can contain any number of dangerous substances.

“The individuals don’t know it — it’s not the drug they are seeking out, but their drug of choice unfortunately is laced with fentanyl and they accidentally overdose,” she said.

Though overdose calls are tracking higher this year, compared to 2016, they have declined for six consecutive months, falling to 121 in October from 297 in April, the police department data show.

A community overdose action team is addressing drug supply, prevention, harm reduction, treatment and support services, prescribing practices and criminal justice strategies, Long said.

The unified effort seems to be paying off, she said.

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Local treatment options have expanded significantly in the last 12 months, and the community has added residential treatment and detox beds as well as other services, she said.

Emergency responders share information with overdose patients and their loved ones and family members about drug treatment services and other resources in the community, Biehl said.

The police department equipped police officers with life-saving narcan to help curb the death toll, and some family members of drug users now carry the treatment as well, Biehl said.