Overdoses Becoming More Frequent, Treatment Centers Look for Options
Working in her Bellaire office, Crossroads Counseling Services clinical supervisor Rebecca Kinkade tries to determine what can be done to address the heroin epidemic sweeping through the Upper Ohio Valley.
The problem seems to be getting worse, as area hospitals continue seeing more patients overdose on the substance. In just two days, on Sept. 12-13, four people overdosed in Wheeling, resulting in two deaths.
“We are getting frequent overdoses, probably two or three per day for heroin overdoses at (Ohio Valley Medical Center). Then, there is probably another one over at East Ohio Regional (Hospital),” said Neal Aulick, medical director for EMSTAR at the two hospitals. “Heroin is certainly our biggest concern at this point. We’ve seen a huge increase just in the last year or so.”
In Kinkade’s case, she and her staff are trying to help those who are addicted to heroin get the help they need before they reach the point of an overdose.
“It’s bad,” she said of the heroin situation in Eastern Ohio. “And, it can happen to anybody in any economic or social situation.
“No one wants to become an addict — it is just something that happens,” Kinkade added.
Aulick said physicians have prescribed less Percocet and Oxycontin in recent years because patient abuse of these painkillers was becoming problematic. However, this has led many to turn to heroin, which, even though it is illegal, is usually both cheaper and easier to obtain.
Aulick said most people who die from heroin overdoses stop breathing or choke on their own vomit.
“We can save them with Narcan,” he said of the drug used to treat patients in an emergency, life or death, situation. “If that doesn’t work, we have to breathe for them.”
Kinkade said those who are addicted to opioids such as heroin get to the point where relatively normal activities cause them pain. This is why many cannot stop taking the drugs, she said.
“The patient becomes more pain sensitive. They feel like they have to have it,” Kinkade said.
Although the most severe problems in the Upper Ohio Valley are related to heroin, Aulick said the hospital also sees patients needing help because of cocaine, methamphetamine and alcohol.
“Heroin is the big problem now, but certainly not the only one,” Kinkade said. “We have clients who are addicted to a variety of substances.”
Crossroads operates centers in Bellaire, St. Clairsville, Cadiz, Woodsfield and Belmont, while the agency is working to establish a detoxification center in Barnesville.
Kinkade said her office deals with many clients who are ordered by the court system to seek drug treatment.
“Any charge where the court believes drugs or alcohol may have played a role in some type of offense, they could be coming here,” she said.
“You can’t just incarcerate everybody. The courts know that,” Kinkade said. “And, once someone goes to prison, they will very likely find themselves back in prison. They have a much better chance of turning their life around with treatment.”
Kinkade said to give an addict the best chance for recovery, organizations such as hers need to focus on the person’s entire life situation.
“Drug treatment is just a tool. You need to help the patient change their lifestyle so that they don’t want to use drugs,” she said. “You have to make them see that what they are doing is not healthy.”
Although many of those at Crossroads are involved in the court system, Kinkade said they do see some clients who come in on their own because they realize there is a problem.
“The best thing you can do is come in for an evaluation to see what we can do,” she added.