Greater Cincinnati overdose deaths rose again last year, preliminary data show

Those fighting epidemic want more from Washington

CINCINNATI -- Overdose deaths rose again last year in several Tri-State counties, according to preliminary numbers from coroners' offices.

Hamilton County led the way, with a 35 percent increase; Warren County was nearly that high, too.

President Donald Trump was expected talk about the opioid epidemic in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. To those on the front lines, in law enforcement and in addiction treatment, the president needs to act.

Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who leads the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, wrote to Trump months ago. He begged the president to follow recommendations from an opiate commission -- one a former commission member called a "sham."

Synan got his response last week: Trump promoted border security.

The president did declare the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October, but did not make any new funding available. In November, Trump said he would donate his third quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services to help fight the crisis.

Synan said he wants action, and for the president to use his bully pulpit to change how people look at those struggling with an addiction.

"Just imagine if he stood up tonight at the State of the Union and said tonight, 'I challenge you, I rally the country, I want all of us to look at those who are addicted as human beings, and we will change how we view and deal with addiction forever.' Just think if he said those words -- the catalyst that would be for the country," Synan said.

In Hamilton County, preliminary numbers show 545 suspected overdose deaths last year. In Warren County, there were 94.

With 80 deaths, Clermont County reported no increase. Boone County reported fewer overdose deaths last year, 47, compared to 2016.

Other counties in the Tri-State

Butler County: 230 suspected deaths, up 20 percent
Campbell County: 75 suspected deaths, up 25 percent
Dearborn County: 15 suspected, up 25 percent

While that data is for all drug overdoses, opioids such as heroin, fentanyl and carfentanil have been the primary killers lately.

Ohio's overdose death rate is the second-worst in the nation; in Kentucky, prisons are running out of space.

Rebecca Newman has lost friends to heroin. "It's a huge problem," she said, "but I mean, so far, nobody's came up with a solution."

A recovering addict, she lives in Covington. Kenton County didn't supply its preliminary overdose numbers.

Newman has been sober for two years. It took jail and treatment to get Newman where she is today.

"Nothing's going to help unless somebody wants to get clean," she said.

Even those who want help can have a tough time getting it, finding wait lists and red tape.

And this can be an especially hard month, according to treatment experts: American Addiction Centers found a spike in calls the first week of January; it's a pattern that repeated last year, too.

The Center for Addiction Treatment in Cincinnati's West End neighborhood, better known as the CAT house, has hired two receptionists to keep up with roughly 500 calls a day. About 300 of those go to the admissions department.

"I think its connected more to the acknowledgement in the community that 'We do have a big problem, and that I have a big problem, and therefore I need to get help,'" CEO Sandi Kuehn said.

The 21st Century CURES Act, signed into law under former President Barack Obama, enabled a one-year national grant of $500 million. About $45 million came to Ohio; and $11 million was distributed to the state's 88 counties.

Hamilton County was one of the leading recipients of that funding.

For the Heroin Coalition, the goal is reducing deaths. Synan admits there's a long way to go, though "it's not for lack of effort."

"We've lost a generation, we're getting ready to lose another generation," he said. "And when we start losing generations, it's going to harder and harder to recover."

If you or someone you know is living with addiction and wants treatment, they can call the 24-hour Addiction Services Council helpline: 513-281-7880 in Ohio; 859-415-9280 in Northern Kentucky.

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