By Gary Brock
There is no one reason why the number of drug-related deaths in Adams County has fallen the last several years.
There are many reasons, according to Adams County Sheriff Kimmy Rogers.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Rogers and County Coroner Dr. Larry Best reported that in 2013, six people died from a drug overdoes in Adams County. That is down from 10 in 2012. And it is an even greater drop compared to the 22 drug-related deaths in Adams in 2009.
It was that benchmark year, when an additional 80 Adams County residents were hospitalized for drug overdoses, that saw the 22 drug deaths push the county to number one in the state per capita for such deaths.
“It was rampant,” Sheriff Rogers said.
What has changed since then?
“There have been a number of reasons,” Sheriff Rogers said. He said that since 2009, the “pill mills” in Ohio have been virtually shut down and the supply of Oxycontin has “pretty much disappeared” because it was reformulated making the drug crush-proof and unusable for drug addicts. The Adams County Regional Medical Center “takes the drug problem here very seriously,” Rogers said. Adams County doctors are more cautious today about issuing prescriptions and there is a greater public awareness of the problem today.
“People are starting to realize the danger now of these prescription drugs,” Rogers said. The sheriff pointed out that despite the “rise” in use of heroin across Ohio, the misuse of prescription drugs is still the prevalent problem in Adams County by a wide margin.
Of the six people who died of a drug overdoses in 2013, five died from an overdose of a mixture of prescription drugs. Just one of the six died from an overdoes of heroin.
Those six who died were: a 57-year-old Winchester man who died of a mix of prescription pills, a 36-year-old West Union man who died of an overdose of heroin, a 47-year-old woman from Dayton who was visiting Adams County, who died from an overdose of prescription drugs, a 40-year-old Blue Creek man who died of a prescription drug mix overdose, a 40-year-old West Union man who died of a prescription drug mix overdose, and a 36-year-old Seaman man who died of a prescription drug mix overdose.
Sheriff Rogers said that today, the Adams County heroin is coming from out of the area - places such as Cincinnati and Dayton. Rogers said that compared to five years ago, the number of people in Adams County using heroin has increased. The reason? Heroin today is cheap. And available where other drugs are not.
Rogers did point out that the number of drug dealers today are down, “and the total amount of available drugs are down.”
Compared to 2009, there has been progress, and Sheriff Rogers and Coroner Dr. Best see that as encouraging.
Dr. Best pointed out that what is most dangerous about the illegal drug use is the “combination of the prescription drugs. All of the deaths had some combination of the drugs.”
He said that the combination of opiates and tranquilizers is the most deadly. “The risk of death goes up 700 percent,” he said.
Sheriff Rogers said the one issue that still needs to be addressed is how drug users - abusers - are getting their prescription drugs. In a word - Medicaid.
“The majority of people who have died from an overdose of prescription drugs are getting them from Medicaid,” Sheriff Rogers said. “With the expansion of Medicaid, there will be people who will abuse this.”
He said that if someone gets Medicaid benefits and uses the money to buy and sell a drug such as Oxycontin, and are convicted of that crime, they should not be receiving these Medicaid benefits any longer. But presently, the law allows that.
“We should not be allowing drug dealers to buy drugs at the expense of taxpayers,” Sheriff Rogers said.
Sheriff Rogers is a realist about the ways of fighting drug addition. He and Dr. Best agree that once a person is hooked on heroin, the results of treatment are “poor at best.”
“Our focus needs to be on prevention, and at an early age,” Sheriff Rogers said. “It would be money better spent to focus on prevention at a very early age.”
He also pointed out that the drug problem has been growing for more than 50 years - since the 1960s, and solving it will not happen overnight.
“It is a very complicated issue,” agreed Dr. Best.