Pubdate: Sat, 25 Jul 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


In Ross County, where heroin users worry both about deadly overdoses 
and a possible encounter with a killer, the state is setting up a 
multi-agency pilot program to respond to the crisis.

The Office of Criminal Justice Services is chipping in $100,000 from 
a federal grant to attack the heroin problem by forming a partnership 
involving mentalhealth and addiction professionals, law-enforcement 
officials and the courts. The Heroin Partnership Project was 
announced on Friday at the Ohio University-Chillicothe campus so that 
agencies can work together to share information and provide services 
and treatment.

"We're trying to bring together federal, state and local entities, 
putting all the expertise and knowledge in one location, to see if we 
can affect overdose deaths," said Karhlton Moore, director of the 
Office of Criminal Justice Services, part of the Ohio Department of 
Public Safety.

Like everywhere else in Ohio, Chillicothe and Ross County have a 
serious heroin problem. The county's overdose death rate in 2013 was 
22.3 per 100,000, the highest rate in central Ohio and one of the top 
10 in the state. There have been least 16 overdose deaths in the 
county this year. There were 31 last year and 336 since 2002, 
according to state records.

Ohio had 2,110 overdose deaths in 2013, 983 of them from heroin, 
according to the Ohio Department of Health.

But the crisis goes much deeper in Ross County, where officials are 
looking for answers to the disappearances and deaths of several 
women, all of whom are apparently linked by drug abuse, specifically 
heroin. At least six women have gone missing since May 2014, and four 
of them have turned up dead. All were known to run in the drug scene 
in Chillicothe, hang out at the same spots, and had battled addiction.

There are indications that sex trafficking may be in the mix as well. 
Some women were involved in prostitution, officials said.

Juni Johnson, executive director of the Paint Valley ADAMH Board, 
said the county coroner "rang the bell several years ago about the 
uptick in deaths due to opiates. We began looking at ways we could save lives."

Treating heroin addiction is a longer, more-difficult process than 
treating other forms of addiction, Johnson said. It can require 
short-term detox, medication-assisted therapy and out-patient 
counseling. "With Medicaid expansion, we've been able to beef up 
those services."

Johnson acknowledged the apparent link with the illegal sex trade. "A 
very large percentage of the women we see that are addicted to heroin 
are also involved in solicitation for prostitution," she said.

The heroin problem is made worse because it is "highly available and 
extremely easy to get," in the words of the Ohio Substance Abuse 
Monitoring Network. The most prominent version of the drug in the 
area is brown powder heroin, often sold in a pill-size capsule for as 
little as $10, the report said.

Younger adults, females and lower-income people are frequent heroin 
users, although the monitoring report quoted sources describing 
typical users as "pretty much everybody."

Dispatch Reporter Holly Zachariah contributed to this story.
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