(Commentaries from Fred Swift are posted on LarryInFishers.com as part of a partnership with the Hamilton County Reporter. The piece below appeared in the June 28th edition of the Reporter)
Hamilton County Reporter
Drug overdose deaths in Hamilton County are averaging nearly three per month this year with an untold number of other non-fatal overdose cases. Heroin is known to be involved, sometimes mixed with other opiate drugs, in a majority of the deaths and probably many of the non-fatal cases.
Is it an epidemic as some say? If it isn’t, it is nearing that point.
The most recent death was reported Monday, the 16th so far this year. For the entire year of 2016 there were 28 deaths in the county attributed to drugs, according to a concerned County Coroner, John Chalfin.
This year, probably for the first time, female fatalities have outnumbered male deaths. While it is widely believed that young adults in their 20s and 30th are generally the victims, the numbers show that individuals in their 40s and even late 50s have succumbed.
There are some efforts to combat the growing problem, but apparently no overall coordinated effort by law enforcement, emergency medical staff, health officials,
hospitals, the coroner and elected officials.
This week Chalfin contacted State Sen. Jim Merritt suggesting that the state provide
for more effective efforts to fight the problem. Merritt who represents a portion
of the county, has been an advocate for drug abuse legislation.
Hamilton County has long had a County Drug Task Force that works to locate
and charge drug suppliers. Ten detectives from various local police agencies are on
the streets pursuing dealers, according to Dwight Frost, head of the task force. The
task force is backed up by the Metro Drug Force operating in Marion County, but
aiding the surrounding counties.
The County Health Department has held a public training session on the use of
Narcan, a drug that can aid in reviving an overdose victim.
Grants were obtained to purchase Narcan for use by the public, and more than 80
doses of the drug have been made available to families which have a suspected
drug user, according to Health Department Director Barry McNulty. Another training
session is planned. All police and first responders in the county now carry Narcan.
The County Sheriff’s Department jail division processes hundreds of individuals
each year on charges that are either directly or indirectly related to the drug trade.
Some are charged with possession or selling, but others, charged with robbery and
theft, are known to be stealing to get money for drugs.
The Sheriff’s Department is also involved in education efforts to discourage
young people from getting into the drug scene. The DARE program (Drug Abuse
Resistance Education) has special emphasis, The sheriff has a special relationship
with Hamilton Heights Schools in which an officer serves as a Resource Officer.
The other school systems in the county have their own resource officers who
spend at least some of their time in drug education efforts.
Despite it all, there is suspicion that dangerous drug use and crime associated
with it is growing; probably not to the extent experienced in some areas, but still
enough to create a serious problem.
Identifying the number of opiate related deaths is usually possible, but the number
of non-fatal overdose cases is difficult. Most cases go to hospital emergency room
in either Hamilton or surrounding counties.
Emergency room records are hard to get even for law enforcement due to various
privacy laws and hospital regulations. But, officials suspect there have been dozens
of individuals treated so far this year in the various area hospitals.
So, the true extent of the drug problem remains somewhat ‘under the radar’ partially
due to the stigma attached to drug abuse and partially due to the legal consequences
of illegal drug involvement.
And, while various agencies are working hard at educating, treating and trying
to reduce the number of drug users and drug peddlers, an effective and combined
overall effort to stem the tide has yet to be developed.
(Editor’s Note: State Senator Jim Merritt appeared on a recent LarryInFishers interview podcast and discussed this issue at some length. You can listen to that podcast at this link.)