‘Addiction is a disease,’ state doctor gives a talk on Clermont’s increasing drug problem
March 23rd, 2017 | By Brett Milam
Business and political leaders gathered March 17 for the Clermont Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast to discuss how opiate use is impacting businesses.
“I just wanna say that it was maybe three years ago – time flies – that we processed the agenda for the future,” Matt Van Sant, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, said. “And some of you that may have been involved in that project may remember that the very number one subject that was voted on by hundreds and hundreds of people in Clermont County was that they really wanted Clermont County to be drug-free.”
The event was anchored by a presentation from Dr. Justin Trevino, the assistant medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services since October of 2015.
“Trying to sort of overstate the importance of this issue to Ohio I think would be hard,” Trevino said. “You all are aware with your community and in your businesses, that has obviously impacted you greatly.”
Addiction is a brain disease, a chronic medical condition, Trevino cautioned before he delved into his presentation.
Trevino said even though people are responsible for what they put into their bodies, once an addiction gets established is when it turns into a “brain problem.”
“As you learn and understand more about addictive illness and the opioid epidemic in particular, I would just ask you to keep that in mind. It really is not a situation that is a moral failing or just not good people,” Trevino said. “They are being, at some level, controlled by that substance.”
Trevino said this is not a situation that “turns around in a short time.” It’s not akin to smallpox, where a vaccine is put in place and we just “move on.”
“It calls on us – calls on you all as community and business leaders to try to understand and try to support the folks in your organization and to be aware,” he said. “This is something that we’re going to have to keep working on for many years.”
According to a 2014 report from Governor John Kasich’s cabinet Opiate Action Team, “Increasing Heroin Overdoses in Ohio: Understanding the Issue,” the authors said unintentional drug overdoses caused 1,914 deaths in 2012, part of an increasing trend line started in 2000.
Prescription drugs in particular are the culprit, the report states, but once the crackdown on prescription drugs happened, a shift happened where the deaths predominantly occurred with heroin.
“With increasing availability, heroin has become a cheaper alternative for prescription opioid users,” the report stated.
“Although prescription opioids do remain highly available throughout Ohio, increasing heroin availability and purity, as well as changes in the formulation of some prescription opioids to make them tamper-resistant has caused users to switch to heroin.”
Those most at-risk group for a fatal drug overdose, according to the report, are young white males aged 25-34. Rural and suburban Southern Ohio in particular is a breeding ground for these sort of overdose deaths, the report said.
The southern region hardest hit in the 2000-2010 period included Clermont, Clinton to the north of the county and then to the east, Brown, Adams, Scioto and further northeast, Pike, Ross and Jackson counties. Neighboring Butler and Hamilton counties are hard-hit, too, but not as much so comparatively, with rates of death at 12.3 to 16.9 per 100,000 people compared to 17.0 to 26.0, respectively. The latter rate trends higher than the average Ohio rate of 12.2.
As a comparison for how far the problem has come: In 2000, Clermont had two reported unintentional drug poisoning deaths, but by 2010, that number was 49. By 2015, it was 105. Brown County had moved to the top position in the state for most unintentional deaths per its population.
According to the Ohio Department of Health in 2016, Clermont ranked fourth in Ohio for overdose deaths, with about two deaths a week. And in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Clermont was fourth in the nation for heroin deaths between 2009 and 2013.
In 2015, the number of overdoses reached 94 in the county, with 78 percent of those related to opioids, according to Get Clean Now Clermont.
An uphill battle fighting a chronic condition
The interesting, big picture perspective to Trevino was that a lot of resources have been put into treatment and overdose prevention and “yet, you can see, we haven’t sort of started to turn this around,” he said.
“I believe we will, but it’s going to take that persistence and continued effort and we need to be creative and think about what are we not doing that we could do, what do we need to do more, those kinds of things,” Trevino said.
Trevino then compared substance dependence, as a chronic condition, to things like diabetes, hyper-tension and asthma, where he said, we see over time is, outcomes can be similar.
“We do get relapses, that’s part of the nature of the disease,” Trevino said. “We also get relapses in hyper-tension and asthma. What we don’t do there is say, ‘Because your condition has relapsed and your now ill again, go away and don’t come back, you’ve failed.’ It’s keeping people in the game.”
Trevino said the challenge is to keep them in a “state of health.”
“What can employers do? I hope all of you are looking at things like drug-free workplace policies, employee-assistant programs. I know there’s costs to all those things – they’re good things — they’re ways to really reach out to your employees and tell them you’re serious about keeping your workplace a safe place for everyone and a healthy place to work,” Trevino said.
A hub for drug trafficking
“I think your site says you’re a nice hub of things. Well, the good and the bad of that is that you have a lot of transportation routes through, again, the drug business is the drug business and that’s how they can get the drugs where they need to get them,” Trevino said. “This is probably not a prescription drug problem, as it is an illicit drug problem.”
Ohio State Senator Joe Uecker was on hand and asked Trevino a question after his presentation.
“Doctor, why those 11 to 14 counties in southwest Ohio, why there? The ease of transportation is all over Ohio, what about that corridor is making it the highest?” Uecker said.
Trevino responded by recommending the book, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by journalist Sam Quinones.
“It’s how the heroin epidemic got established there [in Portsmouth, the county seat of Scioto County],” he said. “What happened is, they moved into town. They have incredible marketing methods to make it easier for people to get. Some of this has to do with the targeting of the drug business with drug supplies. They say, ‘This is a community we can operate in.’”
Van Sant then closed the breakfast by saying, going forward, one of the things they’re interested in is getting data on what businesses are doing to face the epidemic.
“Some of you hear me joke from time to time about the rules of work. One of them I’m beginning to question is, leave your home life at home. What I’m beginning to hear from employers, they’re concerned more and more each day is how addiction is impacting their companies,” Van Sant said. “We have to find out a way to give people another chance – this zero-tolerance stuff – it’s not good.”
How to get help
For starters, Clermont County has seven prescription drug drop-box locations throughout the county at various police departments, including Amelia, Bethel, Goshen Township, Loveland, Miami Township, Pierce Township and the Clermont County Sheriff’s Office.
To acquire a Naloxone (Narcan) kit, call the Clermont Recovery Center at 735-8100.
For more information about how the county plans to fight the epidemic, call the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board at 732-5400 or visit the website launched last month, Get Clean Now Clermont at www.getcleannowclermont.org.
The Clermont County Crisis Hotline is 513-528-7283.