The Cincinnati Enquirer
January 19, 2013

Panel urges urgent action against spread of heroin

By Dave Malaska
Enquirer contributor

CRESCENT SPRINGS — About 50 city and county officials met Saturday to focus on the area’s growing heroin problem.

The meeting, which took up the first two hours of the regular gathering of Kenton County mayors, arrived at two points: The problem is far worse than the public realizes and it’s time to put pressure on state and federal legislatures to act.

“We in local government need to cooperate. The one thing we can do, the most good, is to put pressure on the General Assembly to fund programs,” said Kenton District Judge Douglas Grothaus, one of the panel invited to address mayors. “This is a mental health issue, and it’s largely ignored because there isn’t enough funding.”

Grothaus, Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe, Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson, Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders and county Coroner Dr. David Suetholz — along with other representatives from police, school and medical fields — attended the meeting to share their views.

Primarily, the group stressed how far the problem has spread. According to Sanders, 80 percent of the cases his office handles are drug-related. Of those, the vast majority are heroin cases, he said.

A great number of addicts never see a courtroom, though, said Suetholz.

“There are so many addicts, more than we even know,” he said, relating a story of a patient who turned to heroin after pain medication for shoulder surgery ran out.

The man continues to work, undetected, at the job he’s held for 32 years despite his two-year addiction.

“This is a complex problem. You need a lot of people to get engaged,” he said.

Dr. Jeremy Engel of St. Elizabeth Physicians is trying to spearhead that effort.

“We make it too difficult for people to get help. We have a neglected population, and the number one system that can begin to handle the problem, health care, just isn’t,” he said.

The system is readily able to treat broken bones or heart attack victims, he added.

“But chemical dependence? It’s not even on the radar,” Engel said. “People are dying.”

He’s started to gather an advocacy group to work with legislators to increase funding for addiction programs and change laws to fight the problem, including bills already before the General Assembly.

“We’ve got a lot of people ready to go, ready to start the political conversation of what we need to do, what legislative change we need to bring,” he said.

He and other panel members encouraged mayors to be part of the movement, because change is needed.

“We’ve lost the war on drugs,” said Edmondson.

“What we have been doing hasn’t worked. It will never work,” he added. “Something different has to be done.”