Overdose deaths affect western Clark County, rural areas, too

6:00 a.m. Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 Crime

Nearly 20 percent of people who have died of drug overdoses since 2015 lived outside of Springfield — prompting law enforcement officials to seek more money to help with drug enforcement throughout Clark County.

More than 40 people from areas outside of Springfield have died of drug overdoses in the past three years, according to data compiled by the Clark County Combined Health District and reviewed by the Springfield News-Sun. Clark County has seen more 210 people die of drug overdoses since 2015, data said.

New Carlisle has seen 11 residents die of overdoses since 2015, followed by Enon (6), South Charleston (4), Medway (4) and South Vienna (1), covering every corner of the county.

“It’s throughout the county,” Clark County Sheriff Chief Deputy Travis Russell said. “It’s an epidemic.”

First responders have also responded to 25 fatal overdoses in communities outside of Springfield over the past three years, according to the health district data.

More than 100 suspected drug overdose deaths have occurred in Clark County this year, including a record 86 confirmed deaths, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said.

Clark County likely will surpass 100 drug overdose deaths this year for the first time in its history, he said.

“It’s all over the place,” Marsh said. “People need to realize that. There’s probably someone we all know that’s using each day.”

About one in every five overdoses take place outside of Springfield, according to numbers compiled by Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson. Law enforcement officials have responded to more than 1,000 overdoses this year in Springfield and Clark County. As of Nov. 7, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office has responded to more than 200 overdose incidents, according to local data.

The sheriff’s office recently moved its drug interdiction car to the western end of Clark County to target hot spots in those locations, Russell said. Earlier this month, the residents of Mad River Twp. passed a levy to bring back another deputy in the township, which he said will help battle the drug crisis.

The sheriff’s office also has asked for more money from Clark County commissioners to add up to eight more deputies, including three to four deputies specifically geared toward battling drugs, Russell said.

“We’re losing that battle currently … It’s something that’s always going to be here and we believe it’s something that will be increasingly worse,” he said.

Megan Estep has lived in New Carlisle for the past three years. She was initially surprised about the number of drug overdoses happening in her area, but knows how close it is to Dayton, which has been featured on multiple national news channels as hard hit by opioids.

“It’s not just Dayton, really,” Estep said. “It’s these little small towns where people don’t expect it to be in a town with this population. You never expect it to be your neighbor. It’s not always who you think.”

Recently the number of true heroin and fentanyl cases have decreased, Russell said, but other more potent opioids, such as carfentanil, have increased. The sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement agencies have also seen an increase in methamphetamine.

The sheriff’s office is using both drug surveillance and traffic stops to lead to arrests and other new cases, he said. With more deputies, the sheriff’s office believes it can have an even bigger impact, Russell said.

About 107 sworn deputies have worked for the department since the late 1990s, Russell said, but has lost other staff positions. Its annual budget is about $15 million, the largest in the county’s general fund.

“We’re running with the same number of deputies we’ve had for many years,” he said.

Nothing has been decided at this point on the budget and likely won’t be until late December, Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes. County commissioners earlier this year listed ending the opioid crisis as part of its strategic plan for the next four years.

It’s also the first time new Clark County Sheriff Deborah Burchett’s staff has completed an annual budget, he said. It’s possible the money could be found in other areas of the budget, he said.

“They’re going to come back to us and talk and we’re listening,” Lohnes said. “We’re listening to everything.”

The county is expected to set aside $250,000 in its contingency budget to pay for autopsies in case another spike in overdose deaths were to occur next year, Lohnes said.

“You can’t keep up with that,” he said. “It’s slowing down, which is good. You don’t know. We err to the conservative side and put money back.”

Around the state, rural communities have been hit hard by the opioid crisis, Lohnes said, especially in southern Ohio.

“They don’t have any big cities,” he said.

Clark County Deputy Sheila Crews begins her shift at noon on Monday, Nov. 13. For three hours, she’ll be the only deputy on the streets in New Carlisle, a city of more than 5,600 people.

As soon as she steps into her cruiser, a traffic accident is called in over the scanner. The next few hours, however, are quiet for Crews. She tracks speeders in different areas of the community, reflecting on the rise in overdoses earlier this year.

It’s been awhile since she’s had to deploy a Narcan kit — the opiate reversal drug that can revive people who are overdosing.

“You would go every week (with one),” Crews said. “We’ve been lucky here.”

The overdoses come and go in spurts, she said.

“You can do good, and all of a sudden you can have a bad batch that comes out and you’ll have a bunch,” Crews said.

Crews previously worked at both the Montgomery and Miami County jails before serving as one of four Clark County deputies assigned to New Carlisle for the past two years.

Last week, deputies found more than 2.5 pounds of methamphetamine at a home in New Carlisle. The area is seeing a resurgence in drugs like meth and cocaine, she said. Over the past two years, she’s been able to form relationships with different addicts in the community, many of whom Crews said are currently using meth.

“You know who your users are,” she said. “You know when you see them, you try to help them. Unfortunately they relapse right now more than anything. You’ve got that rapport with them, so there’s less chance of them running from you or hide stuff from you.”

A lot of drugs are coming into New Carlisle through Dayton, Crews said, but that’s happening throughout the county.

“Unfortunately, it’s hit every community,” she said. “No one is immune from it.”

In the last few months, the Enon Police Department has seen a drop in the amount of overdoses responses, Enon Police Chief Lew Wilcox said. The department has now seen an influx in meth, marijuana and a concentrated form of marijuana known as hash oil or dab, he said.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen heroin,” Wilcox said. “There’s been a lot of attention drawn to it and I think that’s why we’re seeing the other stuff.”

But it’s always in the back of his mind that a spike could happen at any time.

“I hate to talk about it,” Wilcox said, “because as soon as I talk about it, it’s going to go the other way.”

The village saw several overdoses earlier this year, but Wilcox said that’s no longer out of the ordinary. It’s in every community in Clark County and surrounding counties, he said, even if residents might not think it is.

“It’s all over the place,” Wilcox said. “Drugs are here and they’re just all around.”

The Enon village police are active in trying to enforce traffic laws to get drugs off the street, he said.

“We’re right at the crossroads, (Interstate 675) and I-70,” Wilcox said.

He still rides with a Narcan kit as he patrols the village,, he said, awaiting another increase in overdoses.

“You never know when you’re going to need it,” Wilcox said.

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