Some much-needed hope in the heroin fight

“The dead of winter” has taken on a terrifying meaning recently as we’ve watched heroin take more and more lives.

We’ve seen police reports in Amherst about officers reviving overdose victims, in Oberlin about needles and other drug instruments, and sadly in Wellington about the loss of life to addiction.

We’ve written dozens of stories in the past few years about the drug epidemic here in Lorain County, the human cost, the effects on law enforcement, and the way addiction is tied to crime. Three Ohioans continue to die each day from heroin overdoses. The victims are men and women; they live in cities and farm communities; they are 17 and 30 and 65. They are white collar professionals, the unemployed, students, and factory workers; they are sons and mothers and grandparents.

In the face of such loss, there seems to finally be some hope.

An emergency meeting called “Ideas That Work: Fighting the Drug Epidemic in Ohio” was held in late January in Columbus. More than 1,000 people, including law enforcement officers and first responders, convened to share ideas on how to save lives. Among them were chief deputy Dennis Cavanaugh of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office, Lorain County Jail administrator Andrew Laubenthal, and deputy coroner Frank Miller, along with Wellington safety force heads.

They discussed using naloxone to revive overdose victims, stopping addiction inside our jails, using drug task forces to go after dealers, and more.

We also applauded this week as one major pharmacy chain, CVS, which has six locations in Lorain County, announced it would start stocking shelves with naloxone. Starting in late March, the company plans to sell the life-saving anti-opiate over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.

Ohio is second in heroin deaths in the entire nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s saying something, because heroin deaths across the United States have tripled in the past three years to surpass 10,000 annually.

Our progress fighting the epidemic to date has focused on law enforcement and information. Where it needs to focus next, especially in Lorain County, is treatment.

We reached out to Tom Stuber, president of the LCADA Way, and found options for long-term treatment are improving.

His agency has partnered with the Timothy House in the past several years to provide 18 beds for men for 45- to 90-day treatment. A new partnership with Primary Purpose will convert the former Riveredge Racquet Club in Elyria into recovery housing where patients will be able to stay more than a year to get help.

The state is doing a lot to help with treatment, Stuber said. It’s provided much of the capital to start and run such drug treatment efforts across Ohio.

The LCADA Way and other local agencies are also working with judge John Miraldi to launch a drug court for felons. Rather than incarceration, they can get help, which means less jail overcrowding and recidivism. That’s important because, according to Stuber, of the 424 inmates at the Lorain County Jail about 80 percent are “opiate-involved.”

He believes ending the heroin problem here will be a long and arduous task. And the biggest difficulty is that more people are becoming addicted every day. That spurs the need for continued education at schools — and in our newspapers — to help steer folks from potentially life-ending decisions.