I first started talking about opiate addiction in early 2015. Here we are, three years later and I’m still talking about it.
2017 presented us with the most challenging year to date. In 2015, we were able to identify $1.5 million in city expenses directly tied to responding to the opiate crisis through law enforcement, EMS runs, Health Department costs, and municipal court expenses.
Staff is gathering the numbers for 2017, but with double the overdoses in 2017, I have to assume that the city expense responding to opiate addiction in Middletown approaches $2 million for 2017. That’s a staggering amount of resources that could have been used for additional paving or other infrastructure and quality of life options.
So what has changed since 2015? A lot. We know a lot more about opiate addiction than we did three years ago. The City will partner with Atrium Medical Center to hold our 12th Heroin Summit at the end of January. Those summits have brought the community together to produce plans that included education for the public on opiates, a needle exchange to slow the spread of HIV and Hepatitis in addicts, and a Heroin Response Team (HRT) that follows up with addicts that are treated by EMS. The HRT has referred over 250 addicts to treatment over the past year and a half. We are making a difference.
We’ve changed tactics, and of course, the addicts and dealers change to get around our tactics. During 2017, MPD partnered with the Butler County BURN Division to cooperate on drug information and arrests county-wide. We’ve formed a similar partnership with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Three years ago, we had 1 drug dog. This year, we have 5. Those K-9’s are pulling drugs off the street daily. In 2017, we transferred 4 additional detectives to the Narcotics Division to better attack the supply and demand for drugs in the city. 2017 saw a 40% increase in drug related arrests by MPD over 2016.
MPD deals with the people involved in the drug trade. Starting in 2018, we have new software that tracks WHERE people are buying, selling and using illegal drugs. We have a Police Major whose full time job moving forward is to attack the places where this type of activity is taking place.
Our EMS crews have become very efficient in saving lives. While overdoses doubled from 2016 to 2017, the number of deaths remained the same. In other words, we responded to 400 more overdoses in 2017 and overdose deaths for 2016 and 2017 remained at 72 people per year. Hats off to a tired and VERY efficient EMS staff.
The problem, however, continues to outrun the local resources. Staff continues to evolve and adapt. We’ve been directly involved in panel discussions at the state and national level on this topic. We monitor where new funding sources and new programs are available to combat this epidemic.
Despite the high number of overdoses, I can’t imagine where we would be without the hard work in law enforcement, EMS staff, Health Department, Middletown Municipal Court and with our health care providers in the community. Unchecked, the damage would have been even worse.
We’ll continue to evolve and adapt and work to push this scourge back out of our community. We’ll keep you up to date as we do that.