2015: Drugs

Disturbing trends, and the strides taken to break them

By Tim Walker

Photo: “The past few years have seen a massive increase in overdoses from heroin and fentanyl abuse in the Miami Valley.”

If one subject dominated our local news headlines in 2015, it was drugs. Fentanyl, caps, Narcan, rigs, boy—local residents have been forced to learn a new vocabulary as they struggle to deal with what seems like the uncontrollable rise in drug-related deaths and crime that is consuming our city and leaving a mountain of dead bodies in its wake.

Right under our noses, powerful Mexican drug cartels have broadened heroin distribution beyond old school big cities like New York and Los Angeles, and have instead targeted what would seem to be an unlikely place: Dayton, Ohio. Our mid-sized, centrally-located city has suddenly achieved a unique and dubious distinction—Dayton is considered to be an epicenter of the 21st century heroin explosion the US is experiencing.

The past few years have seen a massive increase in overdoses from heroin and fentanyl abuse in the Miami Valley, and 2015 saw a continuation of this disturbing trend. Drug-related shootings, home invasions and other violent crimes, and police seizures of massive amounts of drugs have all become part of the daily conversation for local residents.

In Montgomery County, heroin-related deaths skyrocketed 225 percent between 2011 and 2014. Last year alone, the Dayton area recorded 264 drug overdose deaths, with 127 fatalities from heroin overdose alone—one of the highest per-capita rates in the nation, according to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One memorable weekend in May of this year saw Dayton first responders dealing with nine heroin overdoses in a 24-hour period.

“The coroner can’t keep up,” says Robert Carlson, a Wright State University ethnographer who helps track overdoses, quoted in The Washington Post. “There’s not enough room to keep all the bodies.”

The unfortunate statistics reveal that heroin is not the only problem, either. In November, federal officials from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention met with state health officials in Montgomery County and three other Ohio counties to address the recent surge in overdose deaths related to an illicit version of fentanyl that is now being sold on our streets. Used either by itself or in combination with heroin, this drug is unbelievably dangerous. Ken Betz, director of the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, says fentanyl can be as much as 50 times more powerful than heroin.

“Unfortunately, in a significant number of our deaths, the subject still has a syringe in their hand. So death is immediate with fentanyl,” Betz says, stating that some victims are misled into thinking they are using heroin. “The problem we’re having […] is folks will not know what they’re taking. They think they’re getting heroin and they may be getting heroin and fentanyl.”

Luckily, in their fight to save Dayton-area overdose victims, first responders have an ally. Naloxone, better known as Narcan, is a medication that can reverse a heroin overdose and save a patient’s life. It has been used for decades. When administered during an overdose, Narcan blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and quickly restores breathing in most cases, and in July, Ohio governor John Kasich signed a bill into law expanding the availability of the medication. The law allows doctors to authorize individuals to hand out the drug overdose antidote to addicts, their friends and family members without requiring a prescription. It also lets pharmacies distribute the drug without a prescription if a doctor’s rules are followed. In September, Dayton Police began training officers to carry the drug.

Local and federal law enforcement officials work overtime to try and stem the flood of illegal drugs into our city, and sometimes their efforts make a difference. On Nov. 16, members of the Miami Valley Bulk Smuggling Task Force arrested Josie Francisco Morales-Medina in a hotel on Miller Lane in Butler Township. Police say the arrest and raid of the suspect’s three homes resulted in the confiscation of $450,000 in cash, heroin with a street value of over $1 million and a number of guns, making it the single largest drug bust in Dayton history. Morales-Medina, who has ties to a major Mexican drug cartel, was in this country illegally and had been deported three times. He is now facing drug, weapons and immigration charges.

Drugs were in the news when it came to the November 2015 elections, as well. Issue 3 and the push for statewide legalization of marijuana was big news in the months leading up to the election. The massive efforts on the part of ResponsibleOhio and its allies to get their pro-marijuana issue placed on the ballot, and then to get it passed by the electorate, failed to attract enough support from voters. Backers of the issue faced criticism for their attempts to create a legal marijuana monopoly, and the issue was soundly defeated.

The abuse of drugs, and the violence, death and crime that accompanies it, will continue to generate headlines in Dayton in 2016. Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, however, has a message for drug dealers and drug cartels.

“Stay out of Montgomery County. Stay out of the Miami Valley because you’ve killed 264 of our citizens last year and we’re throwing every resource that we have to combat this problem and keep you out of our communities.”

Let’s hope that the new year brings him success in those efforts.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach him at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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