The addiction epidemic has left no community untouched, and Highland County is certainly no exception with drug deaths, drug-related crimes, and the issue reaching into every single taxpayers’ pocket as addiction’s grip tightens.
As reported earlier this week, of the 27 death cases Highland County Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Beery has investigated in the first six months of 2016, 11 have been due to overdose. Last year there were 14 total overdose deaths in the county and the two previous years, 11 total overdose deaths each, he said.
Those who have died this year due to overdose are all members of Highland County community, all are someone’s son or daughter, someone’s mother or father. The youngest to die this year in Highland County because of a drug overdose was 20 years old, the oldest was 53.
Two of this year’s overdose deaths are attributed to heroin, two to fentanyl, one to cocaine, and one to alcohol, according to Beery. There are still five pending cases that Beery said he is confident were overdoses, but he’s just not certain of what substance caused each death. Four other deaths this year, he said, were “drug-related.”
“Not all drug deaths are overdoses,” Beery said, adding that death by unnatural causes comes in “every flavor under the sun,” but a lot of those are related to substance use.
Beery has been with the coroner’s office for the better part of two decades, and said there is “definitely an increase” in the deaths caused by substance use and abuse. “Drugs are killing people in Highland County,” he said.
Beery approached the Highland County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday to request a budget increase that would allow for more autopsies to be performed, something that could aid the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office in prosecuting the dealers that put deadly drugs in people’s hands in the first place.
Typically, a specimen would be taken from the body of someone who is suspected to have overdosed. Prosecutor Anneka Collins said Wednesday that to be able to prosecute those who supplied the drugs, there has to be proof that a person died from the effects of a drug or drugs, which would require an autopsy to rule out other causes of death.
Commission president Shane Wilkin said, “This is just another example about how this problem is just beating on the budgets.”
Addiction is costing taxpayers in a number of ways, like with indigent fees for those charged with a crime that cannot afford an attorney, housing those jailed or in prison, and costs for foster children, to name just a few.
A consistent topic with commissioners over the last several months has been the cost of children in foster care, something that cost the county nearly $1 million additional dollars last year. The cost of foster children care is on track to do the same this year, according to Wilkin, even with cost-saving measures taken and budget cuts made.
Job and Family Services Acting Director Katie Adams on Wednesday attributed the number of children in foster care almost completely to addiction.
Collins said the law and the courts are approaching addiction differently. It is not all about locking people up anymore, but offering them the opportunity for help that could assist them in getting better.
But, the prosecutor said, “I believe that a person has to want to get clean before any treatment program will work.”
She said she thinks the community has to be more proactive and one way to do that is to be “a whole lot more involved with our youth,” and by targeting the younger kids instead of just the high schoolers. “You can’t wait until they are 16 and then ask why they started using,” she said.
Collins said the discussions should start early with elementary and middle school children. And, those discussions should start at home.
“There is no room in our county for anyone to live under the misconception that it can’t happen to their kid,” Collins said.
Addiction doesn’t care about grade point averages, social standing, financial means, education, or anything else, she added, saying, “Addiction isn’t selective.”
Collins said previously that people’s minds are changing when it comes to addiction, and the changing mind set is showing in the different approaches being taken by the courts and treatment options available to those needing help.
One treatment option that has previously only been available by referral through the courts is medically-assisted treatment with Vivitrol, a drug that blocks the reception of opiates in the brain, according to FRS Clinical Director Erin Holsted. She said the drug also blocks the reception of alcohol in the brain.
Medically-assisted treatment with Vivitrol for addiction is becoming more prevalent with outpatient counseling centers, like FRS Counseling and others, utilizing what has been referred to as a valuable tool in fighting addiction.
Holsted in a statement said the Vivitrol injection “eliminates the physical cravings for the opiate or alcohol. Cravings are one of the biggest reasons why addicts relapse following detox.” She said using Vivitrol in conjunction with “intensive outpatient substance abuse counseling treatment has been shown to be an effective treatment for opiate addiction and alcohol addiction.”
The shot has only been previously available from FRS to those referred by the court or to current FRS clients, but the counseling facility is ready to open Vivtrol to self-referrals.
“It’s devastating,” Holsted said of substance abuse deaths. “People are dying and they don’t have to.”
Those who want to learn more about opiate use or alcohol problems, or who would like to explore treatment options, can go to FRS, 313 Chillicothe Ave., Hillsboro, for an assessment during walk-in assessment hours, which are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 8:15 to 10:30 a.m. and 1 to 2:30 p.m. Bring proof of identification if available, proof of any insurance, or proof of income with two pay stubs.
For questions about FRS’s medically-assisted treatment program or any other substance abuse treatment programs available at FRS Counseling, contact Mark Allen at 937-393-9720.
Addiction issues and everything that spills over from them, Collins said earlier this week, “Touches everybody.”
“In order to address this problem,” Holsted said in an email, “we are all going to have to work together.”
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.