What actually helps heroin users get clean: Incarceration, treatment or both?

Posted at 11:59 PM, May 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 07:53:35-04

CINCINNATI -- A new plan to tackle Cincinnati's heroin epidemic is "slowly coming together," according to City Council member Chris Smitherman, who spoke to a crowd of fellow politicians, police and firefighters at a Monday night meeting of the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate just hopes it's effective.

Although he said his department hasn't responded to as many overdose calls as it had by June 2016, the rate remains steady -- and the high volume of calls continues to drain police resources. He said he believes arrest, which costs authorities time, money and manpower, isn't always the answer.

"If we're making a ton of arrests that don't solve the heroin issue, then I've got cops tied up that I don't have in these hot spots," he said.

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Local Fraternal Order of Police president Dan Hils disagreed, saying he believes more money should go toward courts and corrections in order to pair incarcerated users with recovery programs.

"Tough love is the only solution that really makes a difference," he said. "I think you have to have incarceration with treatment and treatment following incarceration together."

Tyler Schmidt has been on the receiving end of tough love. He said Monday night he was four years sober, but his life before that had been punctuated by frequent trips to jail. After he left the military, alcohol replaced his familiar routines. Pills came next. After his substance abuse escalated to heroin, prison bars became a familiar sight.

Schmidt said he had to decide for himself to get sober, and other heroin users will have to make that same choice in order to recover.

"The best thing I see working is community and recovery meetings," he said.

Schmidt reaches out to current heroin users through his church, Shiloh Methodist, and helps them become the support other heroin users will someday need to get and stay clean.

"I see people all the time making big strides, having victories, staying sober and helping other people stay sober," he said.

READ more of WCPO's coverage of the heroin epidemic in the Tri-State.