Officials taking action on drugs



An expert said more people are using heroin because it's cheap.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Columbiana County officials are taking steps to offset the county's growing drug problem. Information from various agencies shows:
The cost of alcohol and drug treatment and prevention in the county has more than doubled in the last 10 years, from $739,907 in 1996 to $1.6 million in 2005.
The county's Mental Health and Recovery Services Board -- the main conduit for treatment funds -- says that it paid for treatment for 1,402 people in 2002 and 1,535 people in 2005. That reflects the rising costs of treating people with multiple addictions. Information for previous years was not available.
The Ohio Substance Abuse Network reported last year that heroin and powdered and crack cocaine were readily available in the county.
The number of drug overdose deaths in the county has reached double digits in each of the last three years. County Coroner Dr. William Graham said that there were four overdose deaths in 1996, as compared with 15 in 2005, the highest year to date. He added that 8 percent of all coroner's cases over the past 10 years were drug related.
Dr. Graham, who has dedicated his annual report to various issues over the years, says he is now focusing on overdose deaths.
He plans to analyze the data his office is compiling to support county Prosecutor Robert Herron, who has been trying to raise public awareness of the growing drug problem.
Dr. Graham said, "This is a real problem. I'd very much like to do something to reduce it."
The ages of those who died of overdoses in 2005 range from 20 to 54. The deaths occurred throughout the county.
"People play with these drugs for years before they take the overdose," Dr. Graham said.
Key points
Eloise V. Traina is the director of the Family Recovery Center, which spends much of the Recovery Services Board's money to treat those with drug and alcohol problems.
Traina said there are two key points in the problem.
"The numbers are escalating" is the first problem, Traina said.
The second is that there are subtle changes occurring in the county as a result of the drug use. The county has long been a low-crime area with solid schools and strong values.
Traina said that now, "I'm seeing things I'd never thought I'd see."
Those things include a fight between a store worker and a shoplifter taking medication used to make methamphetamine and law enforcement officials' saying children in the county as young as 10 are smoking marijuana.
Cheryle Herr, a counselor at the recovery center, said a new trend is that abusers come for drug detoxification but won't return for counseling.
Kathleen Chaffee, director of adult services for the recovery services board, said some people may go for detoxification but are not yet willing to quit.
The rising cost of treatment -- but not a corresponding rise in the number of people seeking treatment -- reflects the use of multiple drugs, which is harder to treat, officials said.
Chaffee said that in March 2005, the recovery services' Substance Abuse Advisory Board began to look at the growing drug problem.
The group plans to hear from Herron later this month and in March discuss substance abuse within the ranks of law enforcement.
Chaffee said there also has been discussion about creating a drug court similar to Mahoning County's.
The recovery services board also has been working at new prevention programs, which could help reduce the need for and cost of treatment.
These new programs involve asking youths what kind of future they want, Chaffee said.
The youths often pick a drug or alcohol-free lifestyle instead of beginning to experiment with drugs.
Twenty years ago, alcohol abuse was the only visible local problem.
Chaffee said most heroin users are in their late 20s and early 30s. The only reason people use it Chaffee said "is because it's cheap."
The recovery services board has enough funds to keep providing prevention and treatment. One gap in the prevention system is that the county has limited housing for those in treatment.
The estimated cost to provide more residential treatment is about $200,000. The recovery services board plans to seek a levy this May -- it was rejected by voters last year -- that would raise about $250,000 more a year for drug treatment and prevention programs.

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