A group representing Miami County law enforcement/legal system; health, mental health and substance abuse programs; faith-based organizations; and individuals said a community wide response is needed to the heroin epidemic locally.

Steve Justice, a lawyer with a Troy law firm, was among those who unveiled June 8 a county heroin coalition initiative that includes several steps toward education and medical response.

Justice said the group started meeting in January to talk and address the heroin epidemic, what some are calling a “plague.”

The goal, he said, is to “address this in a holistic way ... with dignity and respect for the person and for all involved.”

During a press conference at the county sheriff’s training center north of Troy, Justice and others cited the following numbers:

- About 50 people in the county a month are overdosing on heroin

- Within the week leading to the project’s unveiling, two people, ages 27 and 31, died of what were suspected as heroin overdoses in Piqua

- The Troy Fire Department since 2013 has seen a 275 percent increase in overdoses (based on the use of Narcan by medics)

- In 2010 there were approximately 200 Emergency Department visits to UVMC for drug/alcohol related problems. The number last year was 800, Justice said.

To provide education on the problem and information on what people can do, a Hope Over Heroin faith-based festival is being planned July 8 and 9 at the county fairgrounds. More information on the festival will be distributed in coming days, said Aaron Simmons, a Tipp City pastor and coalition member. “We want to be a launch pad for the community to face this epidemic,” he said.

The Hope Over Heroin event’s purpose, he said, “is to lead addicts and the hurting to freedom.”

Steps already taken by the coalition include a two-page resource brochure, an information sheet outlining the system of care for an addict, sheriff’s deputies being trained in administering Narcan and education for the medical community on prescribing the withdrawal drug Suboxone.

Also being explored is a quick response team of first responders who would follow up with heroin addicts within 72 hours of an overdose to explore interest for treatment.

Coalition participants said more work needs to be done.

Expanding treatment options locally is among goals longer term.

As an example, Justice said the county jail is the largest drug detox facility in the county.

The Tri County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services is working to build a one-stop shop for a variety of services including some beds for people needing treatment, said Mark McDaniel, the Tri-County board executive director.

“This issue has come upon us so aggressively,” he said. “It was just too much, too fast. The addiction and substance abuse services in most communities were not ready for this.”

During the past two years the agency has invested $1 million for treatment beds where available as it works with the addicted, McDaniel said. The focus now includes building levels of care in order to meet people where are at in their recovery process, he said. Those levels range from medically assisted detox programs to recovery houses to participation in groups such as AA and NA.

For law enforcement, the heroin epidemic has brought more people committing crimes such as retail thefts and residential burglaries, said Maj. Steve Lord of the sheriff’s office. The problem, Lord said, isn’t drug trafficking but drug abuse.

For those who step forward seeking help, law enforcement is looking more at steering them to resources than punishment. Those who continue to victimize, will continue to be prosecuted, he said.

“In the long term for law enforcement, we are still going to go out and enforce the law ... but if you have a person who is going to surrender themselves ... there needs to be a safe haven for them,” Lord said.

McDaniel said the sheriff’s office has been open to treatment of addicts in jail through counseling as well as medical-assisted treatment for those leaving the jail and possibly participating in drug court programs.

“There is an interaction between the jail, law enforcement, court system and treatment providers to attempt to get people in treatment, We know if we don’t try that, it becomes a revolving door type of thing,” McDaniel said.

Troy Fire Chief Matt Simmons said his job is to help not only the public but to protect his crews who respond to the overdoses, and are impacted by what they see. He said “compassion” is vital as the coalition, and the community, work to help those addicted.

To give to the Hope Over Heroin event, donations are taken at any Fifth Third Bank location, Simmons said, or online at hopeoverheroin.com.

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