Overdose deaths continue to climb in Clark County

Heroin-overdose deaths in Clark County exploded last year, even as the deaths leveled off in Montgomery County.

In 2014, 28 people died from unintentional overdoses of heroin or fentanyl, or a mixture of the two. Last year the coroner recorded 55.

“What we saw amounted to about double 2014, and it looks like it’s continuing this year,” Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard A. Marsh said. “It’s not looking good.”

Heroin/fentanyl deaths in Greene County almost tripled last year to 34. Butler County’s record 189 overdose deaths (149 were attributed to heroin/fentanyl) were 52 more than the all-time high set in 2014.

“The scary thing for us is we had more overdose deaths than deaths by natural causes,” said Martin Schneider, the Butler County Coroner’s Office administrator. “The mixture of heroin and fentanyl is a particularly potent combination.”

The toll from those counties — as well as Warren County, where 44 people died of heroin/fentanyl overdoses last year — suggest the opioid epidemic that claimed 1,988 Ohioans in 2014 won’t be over soon despite leveling off in urban Montgomery County.

Montgomery County leaders and treatment providers said the increased availability of naloxone and the public’s knowledge of the opioid-overdose antidote helped the number of such deaths drop from 190 in 2014 to 185 last year.

“Last year we really broadened the access to Narcan (naloxone’s brand name). Some of it’s awareness. Some of it is people knowing where to turn for help,” said Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board for Montgomery County.

“But a big piece of it, I think, has been Narcan.”

Another chance

James Blanton didn’t live to see 2016. The 44-year-old died in Warren County in his mother’s Springboro home just four days before Christmas.

His partner of 18 years, Jennifer Line had asked him to leave their Kettering home after their son Steven Line, 20, found Blanton in early October slumped over in the kitchen. Steven revived his stepfather with a Narcan kit the family received free from a local program.

“By all outward appearance, I don’t think he looked like what people’s perceptions of a drug addict would be,” Line said. “And possibly to himself as well.”

Line said she was surprised when mail arrived after Blanton’s death including a certificate for a successfully completing a treatment program.

At the time, Blanton was working long hours as a press foreman in Cincinnati, Line said. They spent their last evening together Christmas shopping.

Line said Blanton dropped her off at the Kettering home before returning to his mother’s house. Line invited him in.

“I should, but I’m tired,” Blanton told her. “I’ve only got three days left of these 12-hour shifts, and then it would be Christmas and I have a break.”

“He said I love you guys, and that was it,” Line said.

Line is recovering from a long heroin habit herself. So is her son Steven.

Narcan’s effect

Just five days after saving his stepfather, Steven Line was given another chance to live by a medic carrying Narcan. He’s now in a court-ordered treatment program, according to his mother.

State statistics show emergency medical services administered at least 8,381 doses of Narcan last year. Statistics are not final, and officials expect the number to approach or exceed the 15,234 doses in 2014, according to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

Dayton Fire Department medics treated 1,010 patients with naloxone last year through Dec. 22, according to department records.

The Dayton Police Department has 299 employees trained to administer naloxone, which has made a big difference on the streets, said Lt. James G. Mullins, Narcotics Bureau commander.

Dayton police, who often arrive on scene before a medic, began carrying the heroin antidote in September 2014. Last year, officers used Narcan 167 times, saving nearly as many lives, Mullins said.

“We expected (overdoses) to be down a little bit,” Mullins said. “There are 158 lives that may not have been saved without the Narcan.”

Mullins said another factor in the drop of opioid deaths in the county is the public’s increasing access to naloxone. The drug, which kicks opioids off brain receptors, is available free to Montgomery County residents through the program Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) at Crisis Care in Dayton.

State legislation over the past two years has not only put naloxone in police cars, it’s now available without a prescription in many pharmacies.

Earlier this year, CVS, Kroger and other pharmacies started dispensing the opioid overdose-reversal medicine without requiring an order from a doctor. Community First Pharmacy in Hamilton started offering the drug in January after it received approval.

The AIDS Resource Center Ohio Pharmacy in Dayton was among the first in the region to begin dispensing the naloxone without a prescriptions last September.