Does Scott County have a heroin problem?

Syringe

Need proof Scott County has a problem with heroin and opiates?

Between Jan. 1 and May 11, Georgetown-Scott County Emergency Medical Services personnel administered anti-overdose treatments 59 separate times, agency Director Brandon Remley said.

That's once every 56 hours, or every 2-1/4 days.

So far this year, 11 people have died from overdoses in Scott County, seven involving heroin, said WEDCO District Health Department Director Crystal Miller and Coroner John Goble.

In 2014, according to state records, five people died from overdoses all year. Figures aren't available for 2015.

Scott County Circuit Court records show that from January 2013 to mid-April 2016, more than 150 individuals have been arrested on charges of possession or trafficking heroin or opiates.

And police officers, medical professionals and researchers will tell you that for every arrest, there's an undetermined number of heroin or opiate users still out there, addicts who may not have experienced either an arrest or an overdose.

"There's nothing in the scientific literature that establishes a way to extrapolate" an estimated number of drug abusers from the number of arrests, said Dr. Jennifer Havens, a University of Kentucky epidemiologist who studies prescription drug abuse in eastern Kentucky.

"But it's a safe assumption that there are far more (opiate and heroin users) out there who have not been caught," Havens added.

"It's hard to know how big the problem is," said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy in Frankfort.

"You can have a large population of users that never have contact with the criminal justice system," Ingram said, echoing Havens.

Georgetown Police Chief Mike Bosse echoed their comments, and repeated one of his own observations.

"So much of our crime is still driven by addiction... The largest percentage of our property crime is still related" to addictive drugs like narcotic prescription painkillers and heroin, Bosse said.

A case in point may have been Monday, when Georgetown police arrested a man accused of driving a stolen recreational vehicle on a chase through downtown.

"Officers found a needle and spoon in his sock" when they caught him on Quail Run Drive, Bosse said.

In addition to charges of receiving stolen property over $10,000, first-degree fleeing or evading police and first-degree wanton endangerment, Jason W. Judd, 30, of Georgetown also was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and first-degree possession of a controlled substance-drug unspecified, records show.

A surprising aspect of the local heroin and opiate drug problem involves who has been found to be addicted or dependent.

Dr. Scott Harrison, director of Georgetown Community Hospital's Emergency Department, said his staff has treated patients from all social classes.

"It's very common to see all ranges of socioeconomic status," Harrison said.

And while addiction used to be largely limited to young adults, Harrison said, "Their ages are from the 20s to the 50s now."

The department treated 25 ODs in 2013 and 43 in 2014, Harrison said.

It nearly doubled to 84 last year, he said.

"This time last year it seemed like we saw it every three days," Harrison said.

That pace has slowed so far this year, he said. As of May 16, Harrison said, 21 overdose patients have been treated at GCH.

But Crystal Miller, director of the WEDCO District Health Department, and Ingram said the danger of heroin and opiate use can stretch beyond addicts.

Too many addicts tend to share and reuse syringes, they said.

That's led to the spread of serious blood-borne disease like hepatitis-C and HIV.

"Hep C rates in the state of Kentucky are the highest in the nation," Ingram said.

Miller said she does not have figures on how many cases of hepatitis C are in Scott County, if any are.

But she knows the impact of the disease, which also can be spread sexually.

"It costs $100,000 to treat a single case of hep C," Miller said.

But her concern about the disease prompted her and the WEDCO district board to ask city councils and fiscal courts in Scott, Harrison and Nicholas counties to allow the health department to provide a needle-exchange program for addicts.

Scott County Fiscal Court voted 5-3 to reject the program. Some magistrates expressed concern about enabling addicts by providing free syringes; others questioned the program's lack of an age limit for syringe recipients, saying 12-year-old kids could get needles.

"If a 12-year-old addict wants a syringe, yes, we'll provide them," Miller said in a recent interview.

That's because any addict who comes in would get counseling on treatment programs as well as tests for medical conditions, like hep C, she said.

Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather says he plans to  ask the city council to consider approving a needle-exchange program despite the fiscal court's action.

While Scott County's fiscal court blocked a program here, Harrison County Fiscal Court and Cynthiana City Council voted last month to allow one there.

"It's a smaller community there, and their officials may have a better sense of how bad the problem is," Miller said.

Ingram, as head of the state drug policy agency, also supports needle-exchange programs.

"These programs could really help slow the spread of disease. That's what we need to be thinking about.

"(Heroin and opiate addiction) is a public health problem that needs a public health solution," Ingram said.

Dan Adkins can be reached at dadkins@news-graphic.com.

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