The opioid epidemic's death toll unfortunately continues to rise in communities throughout the state of Ohio, including the city of Middletown where there have already been 69 deaths caused by heroin overdoses in the first 9 months of 2016, compared to a total number of 76 heroin-related deaths recorded in Warren and Butler counties in all of 2013. In late October, Atrium Medical Center, located in the heart of Middletown's Premier Health Center hosted a prayer vigil in response to the devastating heroin epidemic the area is grappling with. Attendees included emergency and medical personnel, police officers, pastors, drug counselors and community members struggling with an opioid use disorder.
26-year old Tyler Herald who lives at Middletown's homeless shelter called Hope House was among those who spoke before the audience, sharing his heartbreaking life story. Herald testified he's been to jail three times over the past 7 years for various crimes ranging from theft and receiving stolen property to drug possession, all to support his growing drug dependency. He started smoking marijuana at the early age of 14, then using cocaine at the age of 15 and by his 18th birthday he was shooting up heroin.
Tyler Herald, who has been clean for nearly one year, tearfully confessed that his heroin dependency turned his life into a downward spiral that eventually built a wall between him and his 3-year old daughter, whom he hasn't seen for more than a year. Nevertheless, he feels he's " a fortunate one", having overdosed ten times and been brought back to life twice with naloxone in just a month's time. Five of his close friends weren't so fortunate, though, having lost the fight against heroin. Herald bluntly concluded that a heroin user either goes to jail or they're dead.
There have been 35 cases involving drug overdoses in Middletown, Ohio so far this year, including 13 heroin overdoses, 3 related to prescription painkillers, 2 heroin/fentanyl overdoses, 6 related to fentanyl only and 11 multiple drug overdoses. The opioid epidemic is straining medical personnel and law enforcement departments throughout Warren and Butler counties. Firefighters have administered 25% more naloxone, the life-saving, opioid overdose reversal medicine this year than they did in 2013. According to Lt. John Magill, police officers respond to multiple calls of potential heroin overdoses within a 24-hour period. On October 18, they responded to 4 calls for suspected heroin overdoses; 34-year old Amanda Martin who had recently got out of rehab was found without a pulse and not breathing as was 53-year old Charles Perry.
Middletown Municipal Court Judge Mark Wall stated that the current situation, the worst he has seen in his 41 years, can be best described as " a war with drugs" instead of a war on drugs, as more half of today's court cases are linked to heroin, either because an individual stole to buy heroin or used this potentially fatal opioid. Mark Wall added he's simply shocked to hear that a heroin user's brother, sister, husband, wife, mother or father is typically the person who injected them the first time. He believes it will take a united effort to stem the tide of this ongoing lethal epidemic.
To commemorate the lives claimed by this horrible epidemic during the prayer vigil, a total of 149 white roses were laid on a table to the left of the podium at Atrium Medical Center. According to Atrium Chief Executive Officer Carol Turner, each of these roses represent one life lost to opioids in Butler and Warren counties. DeAnna Shores of the Coalition for a Healthy Middletown was also among those who spoke at the October event, suggesting that the community should consider a more proactive approach in the fight against the epidemic, such as starting to remove kids from homes where people with an opioid use disorder live, so that the children can have at least a start.