Overdoses down dramatically in Middletown

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- The Middletown Fire Department has seen a dramatic drop in the number of overdose runs this year.

The department had about 170 emergency runs for overdoses in the first five months of the year. That's down from about 500 during the same period in 2017. It's an issue many in the community have been working on.

"People are reaching out more," said Marie Edwards. "I think that people are actually starting to say, 'Hey, there's somewhere I can go, there's someone who actually wants to help me.'"

Edwards heads Middletown's 21st Century Program and the Community Building Institute. Her father, Pastor Michael Bailey of Faith United Church, is the fire department chaplain. 

"I think that has been an asset, a blessing to us, to say that one life saved makes Middletown great," Bailey said.

Schools, churches, addiction services, government leaders, first responders and residents all came together for a heroin summit. Health Commissioner Jackie Phillips said their programs have been working well.

"The quick response team is out in the community and that really follows-up on the people that overdose," Phillips said. "We also have the needle exchange that's out in the community. That helps with people decreasing or never contacting infectious diseases like Hep-C and HIV, and we have Narcan."

Another key resource is treatment, like at Access Counseling Services. Program director Brandy Slavens said the problem isn't heroin, meth or cocaine — it's the addiction of friends and neighbors.

"Maybe our resources alone aren't enough, but when we work together, wrap around these folks and really get them into the treatment services they need," she said.

Middletown police also went aggressively after drug dealers, like the March raids that led to a large fentanyl seizure. Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw and Fire Chief Paul Lolli said cooperation is key. 

"Combination with us and the sheriff's department working together with adding and increasing additional narc squads, as we call them, that made a huge different and we doubled our arrests last year," Muterspaw said.

Fewer overdose runs for firefighters means they're sharper for other duties.

"Less stress, less fatigue, and they're prepared a little but better physically, mentally, to deal with some of our other emergencies: heart attacks, structure fires," Lolli said.

It's a good start, but the opioid epidemic continues. Those involved with solving the problem say the progress is three-fold: prevention, education and treatment.

"We're not out of the woods yet," Bailey said. "We still have a major issue of addiction."

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