Heroin, opiate spike prompts Ohio first responders to reach out to addicts

The program provides users resources to seek treatment and follow-up visits by first responders


By Michael D. Pitman
Journal-News

HAMILTON, Ohio — There is no sure-fire way to combat the opiate overdose epidemic the country is facing, but the Fairfield Fire Department is attempting to put treatment help into the hands of addicts through the U.S. Postal Service.

Since January, the department has mailed out 20 packets of information, which includes a survey with a self addressed stamped envelope, to people they come in contact with that have suffered a drug overdose. Fairfield Fire Department Lt. Jamie Viers said he’s only received two responses, one of which was a letter from the family of someone who ended up dying from an overdose.

“I definitely think this is baby steps to something a lot bigger, but I think it gets the ball rolling,” said Viers, who is a member of the city’s newly formed Fairfield Opiate Task Force.

He said the communities need to find ways to attack the problem because “it definitely is our problem, and this is one way the Fairfield Fire Department is trying to say, ‘We’re here for you. We want to help you out.’”

Eventually, Viers said, he’d like to see the people receiving this information to pass it on.

“That’s kind of the whole snowball effect that we’re looking for,” he said. “Because by the time we’re in contact with you, usually it’s either little too late or well behind.”

Kathy Becker, CEO of Transitional Living and a member of Fairfield’s Opiate Task Force, said she’s “impressed” with Fairfield’s desire to take a “how can we help” approach. But she wants to see more service providers come to the table to help.

“The vital part is providers going out to them and engage people in the service,” she said. “I think it’s a process.”

The problem, though, is there’s probably at least twice as many people they come in contact with that do not have a verifiable address because they’re at a hotel or homeless. Viers said this program’s intent is to “carry out the message that people need to change the way that they’re thinking about these addicts.”

“It truly is a disease. It’s not a chosen lifestyle for the most part. Once they’re addicted they can’t stop, and people need to start showing compassion towards addicts,” he said.

The program is modeled after a program run by the Colerain Twp. Fire Department as well as programs in Middletown and Hamilton.

Colerain Twp. fire Capt. Will Mueller said the township started its program in August 2014 as a 360-degree approach in combating the opiate crisis. They take what comes down to a three-pronged approach:

  • Get resource packets to those who experience a drug overdose
  • As a follow up to the criminal investigation of the call, a “quick response team” consisting of a police officer, paramedic and counselor visits that person within 10 days
  • Connect them with agencies that can help them develop life skills to re-enter society

The numbers show it is working, Mueller said. Comparing the first six months of 2015 to 2016, of the 109 follow up visits by the QRT, 79 percent are in recovery. Over that same time opiate response calls are down 40 percent, and cardiac arrest calls are down 75 percent — and evidence shows they’re not going to other communities and overdosing, Mueller said.

Colerain paid $30,000 to purchase and equip a vehicle for the QRT. The other costs are through reallocating existing resources.

Right now, Fairfield is in “the infancy stage” of implementing its approach to curbing the overdose problem, said Viers.

Once the Fairfield Fire Department has contact with someone who has an apparent addiction problem — it could be heroin or some other drug — Viers is notified. He also runs through the call logs to verify he hasn’t missed a run. He then verifies the address with dispatch and mails out the packet of information, which includes resources to get help.

The next step, Viers said will be getting mental health professionals in contact with those who overdose.

“They’re going to be an asset for us because that’s the next step I foresee … get them directly in contact with treatment,” Viers said.

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©2016 the Journal-News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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