Wendy Doolittle, CEO of McKinley Hall. Clark County has seen a significant rise in Crack Cocaine and Methamphetamine use over the last year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Addiction treatment specialists warn meth, cocaine use on rise in Clark County

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office raided a home in the Belmont Apartment complex Sept. 24 and seized 2.2 ounces of cocaine.

On Sept. 5, Brandon Beedy and Caitlyn Heinzen were sentenced to eight years in prison for the death of 21-month-old Camden Beedy, who authorities said dehydrated while his parents were under the influence on methamphetamine and other drugs.

The two criminal cases demonstrate a rising problem Clark County law enforcement and addiction health professionals are encountering — local drug addicts are turning to stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. In many cases, the professionals say, addicts are choosing to use the stimulants in lieu of heroin because they feel it is a safer alternative.

“The number of patients that we’re seeing hasn’t changed,” said McKinley Hall Chief Executive Officer Wendy Doolittle. “The drug of choice changes. I’ve been doing this for 27 years, when I first came the drug of choice was crack cocaine. So, it’s kind of scary that I see crack cocaine coming back again because that was truly the first epidemic.”

McKinley Hall is a Springfield rehabilitation and addiction services facility. Data collected by the Springfield News-Sun from McKinley Hall shows a spike in new patients reporting cocaine and meth use.

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Between February and August 2018, McKinley Hall documented 564 new patients and found 35% reported using cocaine and less than one percent using meth. Between September 2018 and February 2019, 40% of new patients reported using cocaine and 10% of addicts reported using meth.

Meth usage was reported by 12% of new McKinley Hall patients over the last six months, the data shows. A dangerous sign for a county that was devastated by the opioid epidemic two years ago and before that was ravaged by high uses of cocaine.

“Members of the coalition hear anecdotally, often from law enforcement and first responders, that it appears methamphetamine use is increasing,” a statement sent to the Springfield News-Sun by the Clark County Substance Abuse, Prevention, Treatment & Support Coalition says. “Due to the deadly nature of opioid use, it is easier to have concrete data surrounding opioids compared to methamphetamine use, which doesn’t as often result in deadly consequences.

“Preliminary data provided by the Clark County Combined Health District indicate that there may be a slight increase in methamphetamine use throughout the county. In 2018, methamphetamines were mentioned in almost 8% of overdose fatalities,” the statement says.

Clark County Prosecutor Dan Driscoll said his office is seeing fewer heroin cases than in 2017 and 2018, but a rise in cocaine possession, just like in yesteryears.

“Clark County and Springfield, in general, was a solid crack city before the heroin epidemic started,” Driscoll said referring to the drug-of-choice. “When meth was really big in the early to mid-2000s, we didn’t get hardly any here because the crack was popular. It switched over almost instantaneously to heroin. It was really quick.”

The rapid-change shows finding a solution to addiction is bigger than fighting a specific drug, Doolittle said.

“What we do as a society, unfortunately, is we have spent all this time focusing on just the heroin epidemic and we’ve done it because people are dying instantly,” she said. “But if you go back to the crack cocaine epidemic, there were a lot of deaths there and there were a lot of people sent to prison.

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“We can’t really afford as a county or a nation to just look at one drug,” Doolittle said. “The disease of addiction encompasses all drugs. We can’t solve the problem by just focusing on one drug.”

Overdoses

There have been 28 confirmed accidental drug overdose deaths in Clark County since the beginning of the year.

Clark County Coroner Susan Brown said there are several other cases that her office is awaiting the toxicology report on. The number of deaths is significantly down compared to the last several years.

In 2017, there were 104 confirmed accidental drug overdoses reported by the coroner’s office. In 2018, the deaths fell to 65, according to Brown.

This year, Brown said, many of the deaths investigated by the coroner’s office has resulted in the determination that the deceased used multiple drugs.

“Meth use is up, I believe that,” Brown said. “We see it in a lot of multiple drug intoxications. And law enforcement sees it going up. I believe they are seeing an uptick. But, overall our drug overdose deaths are still down. I’m very hopeful by the end of the year that our numbers will remain lower than previous years.”

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Brown said it is nearly impossible to determine why or how the deceased used multiple drugs. It’s also unclear whether the user even knows what he or she was taking. Driscoll said his office is seeing more cocaine cases and meth is usually mixed with another drug, including marijuana.

Rocking Horse Director of Behavioral Health and Substance Abuse Rob Fitzwater said while treating patients trying to recover, there is a number of reasons why they are deciding to take different drugs.

“As a community, we have worked together and those numbers have seen a decline. But we have seen a rise in methamphetamine and cocaine,” Fitzwater said. “A lot of people are kind of switching from the opioids out here because of all the deaths of the fentanyl. They also report that meth has helped with the withdrawal.”

Doolittle said specialists at McKinley Hall also have reported that patients think cocaine and meth are safer.

“People have said ‘I don’t want to die, it’s safer to use meth.’ We do hear that,” Doolittle said. “They want to know how they can do this safely. But at the end of the day, it all ends up destroying your life anyway if you don’t stop.”

Criminal Justice

When Clark County Chief Deputy Jeff Meyer began his career in law enforcement in the 1990s, cocaine was by far the drug of choice in Clark County.

Seeing it come back is not a welcomed sight.

“What has happened with the flooding of the market with fentanyl, people are kind of afraid to shoot up the heroin because they don’t know what they are actually getting a hold of. A lot of times the dealers don’t even know what they’re selling,” Meyer said. “It’s not a rise in drug use, it’s just kind of a change in the drug of choice.”

Springfield Police Division said their Safe Street Task Force, a unit that aims at combating drug trafficking among other crimes, encounters many different types of drugs.

“The Safe Streets Task Force was re-instituted in 2018 to address neighborhood crime and quality-of-life issues like drug trafficking. As in 2018, the Task Force in 2019 has made numerous arrests that have resulted in the confiscation of contraband drugs and guns. Confiscated drugs included powdered and crack cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and marijuana,” a statement from the police division says.

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Driscoll said prisons and criminal justice can’t defeat addiction on its own.

“Getting the drug traffickers off the street is important, but it can’t fix it alone. You have to have treatment options because if you can take the demand side out and the supply side, that’s how you make real change. And we are starting to see that.”

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