OTTAWA — In 2001, there were no clients in treatment in Putnam County with an opiate-related diagnosis, either through the abuse of heroin or a prescription drug. That same year, Ohio Mental Health Addiction Services reported only 29 counties with a percentage of opiate addicts above three percent. By 2012, Putnam County’s percentage of opiate admissions had climbed to 11.8 percent.

The OMHAS map, a complete map of Ohio which reported Ohio opiate addictions per county, went from a serene blue in 2001 to flaming red in 2012, with the only exceptions being in Coshocton (4.5 percent), Morgan (four percent) and Tuscarawas (7.9 percent) counties. Keep in mind, the numbers only include opiate addicts in treatment.

It is suggested that the number of unintentional drug overdoses in Ohio is in direct correlation to the distribution of opioids prescribed to Ohioans. The numbers seem to point in that direction. Since 1999 the opioid analgesic distribution in grams per 100,000 people rose from just over three to 16 in 2011. During the same time frame, unintentional drug overdose deaths per 100,000 Ohioans rose from three to nearly 15.

“Eight percent of heroin users started out abusing opiates that were prescribed by someone. Last week undercover agents found heroin selling in Vaughnsville,” remarked Putnam County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Basinger. “If you can buy heroin in Vaughnsville, you can buy it anywhere.”

Basinger, a member of the Putnam County Community Corrections Board, was speaking at a meeting of that body on Aug. 13 in Ottawa. The meeting focused on opiate addiction issues in the region. He explained that the Community Corrections Board, which includes a number of elected officials, law enforcement and the Putnam County Commissioners has been active for 20 years and was instrumental in securing the new county jail and 911 service. Now Basinger hopes to turn attention toward the growing problem of opiate abuse, an addiction which he said resulted in more related deaths at the state level last year than traffic-related deaths.

“Putnam County has been behind. The trend is catching up,” he said.

On June 30, an Opiate Drug Symposium was held in Columbus at the request of Ohio Governor John Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. All 88 counties were to be represented. Putnam County Municipal Court Judge Chad Niese agreed to coordinate an opiate addiction response team for this county.

The Putnam County team includes Basinger, Sheriff’s Sargeant Brian Siefker, Prosecutor Gary Lammers, Jessica Cox of Pathways Counseling Center, Probation Officer Ryan Verhoff, Commissioner John Love and Attorney Matthew Cunningham. During the Aug. 13 meeting at Schnipke Inn, Niese asked Probate Court Judge Michael Borer and Coroner Anna Horstman to become part of the team.

In Columbus, the original team members learned to recognize the signs of opioid addiction and approaches other courts have taken to deal with addiction issues. The program addressed practical medical concerns and larger policy that Niese said he hopes will be followed through with “as far as how we’re going to fund these issues.”

Basinger noted that it is a complicated problem with a number of solutions. The best means of treatment for opiate addiction is generally agreed to be one which involves drug replacement therapy. This involves replacing the opiate with another drug that will allow the person in treatment just to feel normal during withdrawal. But history has shown that the replacement can be the devil in disguise (see sidebar). In any case, treatment for opiate addiction can be costly and time-intensive.

Pathways Counseling Center Aaron Baumgartner confirmed that, through his agency, components of a comprehensive opiate use treatment plan include assessment of health, risks, the patient’s motivation to change, and whether use is active. Assessment is followed by psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Baumgartner said that Dr. Danya Lewis, the only Pathways practitioner licensed to prescribe this treatment, practices outpatient detox with some degree of success. Yet the waiting list for treatment is 3.5 months.

“That speaks to the resource problem in this county,” said Baumgartner.

Intensive outpatient services, which includes contact with patient five days a week as well as group and individual therapy, does not exist in Putnam County.

On Aug. 12, Ohio Attorney General DeWine announced that he is awarding Lucas County a grant of $650,000 to fund a holistic pilot program that will utilize partnerships and resources throughout the area to assist those suffering from an addiction to heroin. The funds will also pay for a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) student with the University of Toledo to study and evaluate the effectiveness of the program for its potential use as a model for recovery in other communities across the state.

On the local level, mental health services, which include opiate addiction treatment, are hurting for funds. Mike Ruhe, Executive Director of Pathways, spoke to attendees about the funding cuts his facility is facing.”The numbers are huge. In 2007, our budget was $1.4 million, this year it is $860,000,” he said.

Next week’s installment will discuss paths to funding opiate addiction treatment.