BY D’ARCY EGAN
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed everyday life over the last four months. For opioid addicts it has made staying alive even more problematic, said Ottawa County DART Task Force Agent Trevor Johnson.
“Because of the pandemic, and the effect its has had on people trying to deal with their drug habit, April was the busiest month for overdoses since the beginning of our Drug Addiction Response Team (DART) program in 2017,” said Johnson. “Because of quarantines and cancellations, people couldn’t get to their meetings and programs that help them handle their addictions.
“They were isolated and lonely, and we know recovery is very much a team sport. They’re most helped by being around positive people, places and things. If the contacts and resources are not available, even people with substantial time in recovery had been failing.”
Johnson said that overdoses came down, but just a little bit, in May. Overdoses have picked up again in June. No fatalities were confirmed.
The drugs kept flowing, though. Recently, the Seneca County Drug Task Force’s Metrich Enforcement Unit responded to an overdose in a motel parking lot in Tiffin, Ohio. With help from other agencies, a search of motel rooms turned up a suspect, as well as heroin, fentanyl, drug paraphernalia, criminal tools and money.
In Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, there were 52 overdose deaths in May. County Medical Examiner Tom Gilson said that interventions by drug courts, as done by Ottawa County Judge Bruce Winters, suggests it is worthwhile to offer addicts more than jail-based programs.
“Ottawa County is sort of the bottom of the food chain for drugs,” said Johnson. “Drugs don’t generally start here, but they do end up here,” he said. “And every time drugs change hands, someone messes with the drugs to cut and change it, so people can’t really know what they are buying.”
Fentanyl is still the major drug problem in Ottawa County, but methamphetamine is showing up again. Fentanyl can be synthesized with chemicals, as well, making it easier to process and mail around the country.
The real game changer, said Johnson, has been readily-available naxolone HCL, better known by its trade name, Narcan, a nasal spray. To prevent deaths, Narcan is available for free from the Ottawa County Department of Health.
“We call it ‘Jesus Juice,’” said Johnson, “for its ability to help someone who has overdosed, turned blue and isn’t breathing. Narcan can bring them back.”
Ottawa County officials take a comprehensive approach to overdoses and addictions.
“It’s like a bicycle wheel that has spokes. Some of the spokes are mental health treatment, chemical dependency treatment, 12 step programs, sober support and stable housing,” said Johnson. “The more spokes you have on the wheel, the more likely you will be able to succeed.
“Personal motivation is a must, but they must have structure surrounding them, and positive people.”
People like former addicts Kenn Bower Jr., who now operates Light House Sober Living, a rehabilitation home in Port Clinton, and Jeff Schiil, a motivational speaker and member of the Ottawa County Opiate Collaborative.
“Treatment centers, elected officials, judges and law enforcement, we all work together like one big happy family, and treat those who need our help like real people. We don’t know who is going to be successful and who’s not,” said Johnson.
Dealing with drug addicts and overdoses can have a debilitating effect on law enforcement, especially when an overdose becomes a fatality.
“I’m lucky to have a great support wheel,” said Johnson. “My family, my friends and all of my buddies from the Port Clinton Fire Department help me to get through. It’s all about knowing when to reach out when you need help.”