An article ran in the Journal News a few months ago that discussed converting the closed Tytus Avenue Fire Station into a post-rehab half way house that would provide services to recovering heroin addicts. At the time of the Journal article, the idea was just a future consideration, and I told the public that if we ever got more serious about exploring the idea, I would let everyone know and provide time for comment and input.
That time has now come. I’m going to start this post with a fire house discussion, then a discussion on the implementation of our heroin summit plan, and finally I’ll circle back to talk about the halfway house.
Our existing fire stations are old, nearing the end of the their useful life and they are not well positioned in relation to the growth of the city in the past three decades. I have instructed the Division of Fire to update an earlier study that will contemplate expansion on the East End and then lay out our fire stations in a way that maximizes service to the public and reduces run time to calls. That analysis will be completed this year and then we will know where fire stations should be. Over the next couple years, I will propose to City Council that we purchase land as close to the ideal locations as possible and start the process of realigning where our fire houses are. Once property is obtained, I’m guessing in the 3-5 year range, we can look at building new fire houses at the best locations for service. It’s a multi-year process and the old existing Tytus Avenue fire station does not represent the future, it represents the past. At the current time, there are no plans to reactivate that location as a Fire House again.
So back to heroin. If you’ve been following this blog or the Journal News or any other media source, you know that heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions throughout the United States. In 2014, Middletown spent $1.5 million of your local tax dollars responding to heroin-related health and public safety calls. In Butler County, drug addiction overdoses are now the number one cause of death, topping natural causes. In the first quarter of 2016, 16 Middletown residents died of heroin overdoses.
The public often scoffs at heroin addiction as a moral failing or bad choices. That may be true in some cases. My point would be that once they are addicted, it really doesn’t matter how they got there. It becomes a medical issue, not a social one. A heroin addict has three choices, and only three. Continue using heroin (including any crimes committed to support the habit), get into treatment, or die. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.
As the State and Federal Government has been slow to recognize this issue and to provide funding, it was clear to me that we were on our own in figuring out how to deal with heroin in Middletown. To that end, I convened 7 heroin summits over the past year and a half with Atrium Medical Center to develop a local plan to address heroin addiction in Middletown. That coalition created a quarter of a million dollar program focusing on all areas, education/prevention, identification/intervention, treatment/post treatment, and a plan to engage our youth in out-of-school activities to prevent a new generation from becoming the next addicts. It is a good plan developed by a coalition of medical professionals, public safety officials, social service providers, addiction specialists, civic groups, the religious community and recovering addicts. We have received donations for this plan and City Council recently funded the remainder of the first phase of the plan. We will be implementing this plan in May and June and hope to see measurable results in the second half of this year. I’ll keep you in the loop as we see what the plan accomplishes. This part is the carrot. If you need help with addiction or know people who are ready to get help with their addiction, we have treatment available in Butler County and around the state and we can help.
One piece of the identification/intervention plan is the creation (by June 30) of a quick response team composed of a paramedic, a police officer and a social worker. This approach has seen positive results in Colerain and we hope to duplicate their successes. We now are tracking EMS runs for overdoses and MPD calls for service related to drug addiction. When an addict is identified, the quick response team will follow up with the addict and offer them a path to sobriety and treatment. It’s not about arrest, it’s about ending the addiction.
My message here is simple and clear. If you have an addiction and you want help, the City of Middletown will help you get into treatment. If you wish to continue to use and are not ready to get into rehab and put your life back together, the City will no longer tolerate your addiction within our borders. You will need to take your addiction somewhere else.
And so here is the stick to go with the carrot. While we have been working on the heroin summit plan and a compassionate approach to healing addicts, we have also been changing how we approach heroin from a public safety perspective. We recently obtained our 4th drug dog to be used in the fight on heroin. If the dogs are effective, I’m happy to get a 5th K9. We are mapping EMS overdose calls and MPD calls for service related to drug addiction. With the maps showing us the current “hot spots” for drug activity, we will form a task force for the summer whose purpose is to eradicate the hot spots. If the hot spots move, updated crime and EMS maps will show us where, and we’ll attack again in the new location. We enacted the Chronic Nuisance Ordinance last fall, and we are finally ready to put it into use. If there are two drug related activities at a Middletown residence, the property will be labeled a chronic nuisance property, and if the City has to respond a third time for drug related activity, the owner of the property will be invoiced for the entire cost of future responses by public safety. If EMS or MPD responds to a residence for a second overdose by the same person, we are going to hold the person in charge of the property accountable for permitting drug abuse if the facts fit that criminal charge.
We are identifying addicts in the city and giving them a chance for treatment. If they don’t respond to that offer, we will attack the places where they live and use drugs to eliminate places in the City where drug abuse is taking place. We will step up traffic enforcement using K9’s to target drugs coming into the city. We will target traffickers of drugs without mercy.
We sincerely believe that between the heroin summit plan and our changes in public safety responses, we will see a marked, measurable reduction in heroin related crime and deaths by the end of 2016. We will capture calls for service, crime maps, EMS runs, MPD arrests and number of overdose deaths to measure our progress. I will keep the public informed as we implement these different programs.
So where does the Tytus Avenue Fire Station fit in? I’m not an addiction expert, and I may not get the numbers exactly right. The experts tell me that once a person enters rehab and successfully completes medically assisted treatment, if they get full outpatient services to deal with any mental illness, medical issues, job assistance, help with maintaining sobriety and help reconnecting to family, they have about a 70% chance of staying clean. If they do not receive the wrap-around services to help with all of those items, the chance of staying clean goes all the way down to about 10%. The numbers are that different.
We will encourage recovering addicts to leave the cities and neighborhoods where they used drugs to help with their fight to stay clean. It’s hard to maintain sobriety when you return to the same neighborhood where drugs are readily available and the people you associate with are still using. That being said, some of our residents will stay in the City. Having the Tytus Avenue station available as transitional housing allows us to set up that support net of services to help our returning citizens stay clean, get jobs and productively rejoin our society.
The transitional housing would not only provide services, but it also gives returning addicts a safe place to get their feet back under them while they return to Middletown and a normal life. The house will have strict rules, will require services, will require that the house members seek employment, and will require them to perform household chores to maintain the building. The household members will be drug tested and any who fail will be removed. No drug abuse will be tolerated by household members or guests. This old fire station will be one place where we can guarantee that no ongoing drug use or drugs will be on the premises.
The City is making the building available. None of your city income tax dollars will be used for renovations or operation of this facility.
This is an imperfect solution to an epidemic problem. We have the fire station available. Our partners have funding to convert it for this use. The need is real. There is no good location in the city to put such a facility. If we move forward, we will establish an end date to this project, so that if the heroin epidemic slows to a point that the transitional housing is no longer needed, we can reclaim the station and discontinue the services.
I will be taking this issue to the June 8 Planning Commission meeting seeking a Use Adjustment to convert the fire station to transitional housing. We will mail the usual notices out to nearby residents as required by law. If you have strong feelings about this issue, there will be a public hearing at the June 8 meeting to voice your concerns. I would only ask this of our residents… the Planning Commission is a group of volunteers who serve to make the city a better place for all of our residents through thoughtful consideration of these types of requests. This is an emotional topic. Let’s make sure we focus comments on the issue at hand and make sure we respect the Planning Commission for their hard choices and difficult discussions. If you’re mad, be mad at me. Vent to me. Let’s be courteous and professional to our Planning Commission members. Their work is difficult and their service is greatly appreciated.
Tough times, tough decisions, imperfect answers. We are trying to make things better for both addicts and our citizens. Whether we get it right remains to be seen. This is the best solution right now with the resources available.
Thanks for your support and your consideration.