Dec 29, 2013

Addiction tough to treat; focus on prevention

BY BOB ROBINSON
ASSOC. EDITOR
GREENVILLE – “There’s this young lady… ‘I know it,’ she says… ‘I know I’m going to die but I have to have this drug’.” Darke County Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker tried to explain the depth, and nastiness, of the drug problem Darke County – along with the rest of the country – faces.

Whittaker said the coroner spends a lot of taxpayer money – the Sheriff’s Department spends a lot of taxpayer money – dealing with this problem. They investigate drug overdoses; they spend time and money stopping traffic…

“We can’t just not do it,” Whittaker told about 25 members and guests at the Darke County Republican Mens Club Dec. 21. “It’s our legal obligation. So what do we do? Throw them in jail?”

The jail holds – can squeeze – up to 40 inmates. After that it becomes a safety issue; the overflow is sent to Mercer County or other jails. “Drugs are what’s filling our jails up.”

“Deputies stopped a driver. Heroin use,” Whittaker said. “Almost hit several cars head on before we stopped him. There were kids in the back seat of the car.”

These are low level felonies. Traffic stops. Driving under the influence. Drug abuse instruments. They don’t get sent to prison.

He noted people have to understand it’s difficult to treat. The brain gets re-wired. It becomes a physical thing. If an addict doesn’t get heroin he gets sick. It’s like saying to a normal person…

“Sir, I need you to stop breathing for me for about 15 minutes. That’s why it’s so difficult.”

From 1996 to 2003 there was an average of two to three deaths a year from accidental overdoses. In 2004 they started climbing. In 2005 there were 10 deaths. There were nine in 2012. As of Dec. 18 there were six in 2013.

Initially the cause of death was due to prescription overdoses. Several years ago they began to evolve into heroin. Cheap heroin has flooded the market. The problem takes a toll beyond the cost of fighting and treating drug abuse.

“There are jobs available in Darke County,” Whittaker said. “Employers can’t fill them. They can’t pass the drug test.”

In response to a question, Whittaker said most abusers are local and about half of the dealers are local abusers. They can’t get a job so they deal.

Whittaker said they’ve had round table discussions; and they believe available drug services are insufficient. Local facilities such as Darke County Recovery and Mental Health do their job but there is no inpatient facility. It takes a minimum of 28 days, usually over 30 to dry someone out at a cost of a hundred of dollars a day. MonDay is a jail program that has inpatient services. When it is used it’s usually an alternative to jail or prison.

“What about the people who don’t qualify?”

Another question asked if the focus should be on those already addicted or on those coming up. Whittaker allowed the supply won’t go away as long as there are people willing to buy…

“We’re after the fact,” he said. “We put two dealers away; there are already two or three taking his place.” Something the sheriff has wanted to do is put officers back in the schools for education. “We know what’s going on; we can talk about it. It also has the side benefit of providing security for the building.”

Whittaker acknowledged at one time the department had three officers assigned to the D.A.R.E. program but due to budget cuts, it went away.

He noted this is a community problem and the best way to handle it is with local law enforcement.

“Put Greenville police in the city schools. Put Darke County Sheriff’s deputies in the other schools. Our problems here are not the same as those in Montgomery County. We know our own people.”

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