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Northern Kentucky has been called the “heroin ground zero.”
The deadly statistics validate that moniker.
Four heroin overdose deaths have occurred in Grant County in less than three months this year.
Last year, there was only one heroin death.
“It should be alarming to everybody,” said Robert McDaniel, Grant County coroner. “It’s extremely problematic to everyone in the community.”
In 2002, there were zero drug overdose deaths in Kentucky contributed to heroin abuse.
The number has grown rapidly over the past five years to 129 in 2012, a 207 percent-increase from the previous year.
“People from Kentucky are going to Cincinnati to buy their drugs and coming back to Kentucky and overdosing on them,” said Grant County Sheriff Chuck Dills. “Even when meth was the worst we were experiencing in the county we didn’t see the deaths we’re seeing with heroin. People are overdosing so easily.
Heroin is slowing down their respiratory system where they quit breathing.”
According to a recent Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 9 percent of adults in the state reported knowing friends of family members who had experienced problems as a result of heroin abuse.
That statistic rose to 30 percent in northern Kentucky.
The leadership team of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response was formed to try to change the rapid upward trajectory of heroin abuse.
The group has been able to influence lawmakers to make Naloxone, a medication used to reverse heroin overdoses, more readily available.
The team also has a four-year, $16 million plan to help stabilize the epidemic that includes reducing the heroin supply, advocating for policy changes, expanding the availability of addiction treatment, improving long-term recovery support and reducing overdose deaths and public health threat posed by infectious diseases heroin use can bring.
Locally, Champions For a Drug-Free Grant County held a heavily attended community town hall meeting in September 2013 about the impact of the growing heroin epidemic at Grant County High School.
Last week, H.O.P.E. (Helping Other People Everywhere) held a candlelight vigil to remember those lost and those still battling heroin and other drug abuse.
The Grant County Sheriff’s Office made 15 arrests for possession of heroin and four arrests for trafficking heroin in 2012.
The number of heroin possession arrests jumped to 22 in 2013.
In less than three months this year, 15 arrests have been made combined for possession and trafficking heroin.
“You would think it would decline because of the arrests were making,” Dills said. “But, it’s not declining.”
“Most of the theft cases in this county are all drug related,” he said. “Anytime we have people who are scrapping metal, burglaries, nine times out of 10 they’ll tell you they are doing it to support a drug habit. It’s not to feed their family. It’s not to get to go to college.”
Two men from Ashland recently bought heroin in Cincinnati and made a pit stop at a Dry Ridge gas station on their way home.
One of the men snorted heroin in the bathroom and passed out, said Dills.
“These people are shooting up in public places,” he said. “They’re leaving their used drugs behind that still has residue in it.”
Dills said the laws are already in place to fight heroin.
However, the issue he has is not having enough manpower to do the job sufficiently.
When arrests are made, Dills said incarceration is not always enough to curb the addiction.
“We’re see that over and over,” Dills said. “We arrest a guy today, he gets out in six months and he’s out doing it again. If we’re not treating these people, we’re just throwing money away.”
With programs like DARE a distant memory in schools, Dills said education is another important aspect in fighting the heroin epidemic.
Beginning next year, the sheriff office’s middle school school resource officer will try to establish a drug education program.
“I think education is crucial with younger kids,” Dills said. “It’s like I tell parents when their 13 or 14 year old is out of control. You can’t start parenting at 13 or 14 years old. You have to start at birth. I think the earlier you can go in educating kids about the dangers of drugs, the better. That is when things stick.”
No one answer will solve this growing problem.
As the addiction grabs ahold of users tightly, Dills said some family members and loved ones are left hopeless at what to do.
Sometimes their only solution is to turn in the addict to prevent further harm and eventual death.
“It’s rare for a family member to turn another family member in. But they are so feared of death that they are doing it,” Dills said. “The thought of their son, daughter, cousin, whoever is the least of their worries. I’ve had numerous families tell me that they would rather talk to me than the coroner.”