Battling heroin and opiate addiction door-to-door - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Battling heroin and opiate addiction door-to-door

Source: WXIX Source: WXIX
CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (FOX19) -

Battling heroin and opiate addiction with kindness is a new way of curbing an old problem, and the state of Ohio is throwing some big financial weight behind it.

FOX19 NOW was asked to ride along with Clermont County deputies as they went door-to-door their first day launching this two-year initiative. Investigator Stefano DiPietrantonio rode with deputies to some of the most remote areas of Clermont County, such as Felicity, knocking on doors and looking for people who have overdosed on heroin or opiates in the last week.

It's a new way to attack the heroin crisis -- harnessing the power of a shared experience.

A team starts the journey in two cars, working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and this is what every Thursday will look like for the next two years for Jerry Wittmeyer and Clermont County deputies. It brings together people like Cpl. Dan Cooper and Wittmeyer, a recovering addict-turned-counselor.

Each time Wittmeyer knocks on someone's door, he said all they need to hear are these four words: "I'm here to help."

"If I can do it, you can do it," Wittmeyer says, enthusiastically.

He’s part of several Quick Response Teams with the Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services, working to get people into treatment and off of drugs. They follow-up with a list of people the sheriff provides, who have overdosed in the last week, to make sure they're getting into treatment.

"They're not making it through our door,” said Gregg Pieples, with the Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. “They're dying before they're getting to us, so our goal is to kind of change where our front door is."

Pieples said they started these Quick Response Teams back in January, in Union Township, with fire officials and first responders, then in Miami Township, and the city of Milford's first responders and police department. Now, they're in Clermont County.

FOX19 NOW's ride along was their first day exploring this program across Clermont County. This is an off-duty detail, which Capt. Jeff Sellars said his men and women are excited to get behind.

"The deputies that are going out on these details want to do this, they want to help,” said Sellars. “We posted a two-month schedule for this detail and it was filled up in four hours."

Sellars is heading this effort, and secured a grant from Attorney General Mike DeWine for $87,500 to make it happen.

"The amount of overdoses that we have out here is skyrocketing,” said Sellars. “We were No. 3 in the State for overdose deaths per capita."

Deputies make the initial approach, then the team steps in from there.

"I think it's very impactful, when an officer comes to the door and says, I'm not here to arrest you, I'm here because I want to help you," said Pieples.

FOX19 NOW stopped at 10 homes on this trip. The teams will leave information hanging in a small, white bag on the doorknob if no one's home. A call from someone wanting to get into treatment can come months later.

But with each knock, they offer hope, sharing their success.

"It's very, very scary," said Wittmeyer of his own personal struggle, which was intense and ongoing.

"Thirty-five years," he told FOX19 NOW. "I used drugs because I didn't like myself. And I think a lot of people probably suffer from the same thing. You know, feelings -- it's a feelings disease is what I'm told."

Wittmeyer said he used drugs to change that feeling, but through treatment was able to change that feeling into something so much healthier and positive.

"Today, I've changed my life and it's an awesome life. I'm truly happy, joyous and free today. And I want to share that with these folks," said Wittmeyer. "My wife is also in recovery, so we share this journey together, it's just an awesome life and I wish everybody could have it, that's struggling with drug addiction."

He’s been clean for a decade now and wants to share that feeling of freedom with the world.

"Some are just like me 10 years ago, and ready for someone to reach out to them," he said.

Bryan Taylor has been in recovery six years.

"It feels great," he said, smiling broadly. "I can't believe that I'm here today, you know, because there was a time in my life that I had no hope in my life."

He knows exactly what it feels like, to be on the other side of the very doors they’re knocking on, the feelings of desperation and hopelessness.

"It's just a big snowball, you can't, it just gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, until you get to the bottom of the hill, you know,” said Taylor, adding that drugs steal away any promises of a better life. "One of the biggest casualties of that is it takes your hope away. Saying I was there, I know what it's like to be sick, I know what it's like to do the chase, to try to find it, I know all that stuff. That's a very powerful thing, you know? It's something I want to go out and share with people."

As FOX19 NOW drove to some remote communities, it took three tries to find a 20-something man, but the team eventually found him in a camper in a friend’s backyard. After talking with him, both Taylor and Wittmeyer said he's open to treatment and ready to change.

"The important thing that we share with them is that we live in recovery, today," said Taylor.

At another house, a man said nearly all of his children are struggling with addiction, even going so far as stealing his Social Security checks to buy drugs.

FOX19 NOW asked what happens if these counselors get to the door and somebody is clearly high, clearly using -- does that change the dynamic of what's going to happen?

“Obviously, if there's a crime occurring while we're there, we're going to react accordingly. But if someone is there, and they don't want treatment, they don't want us there, we're gonna leave," Sellars. "They just don't know where to turn, and that's where this QRT, Quick Response Team, is all about, is reaching out, trying to get these people into recovery, get them into treatment, show them that we're here to help them. We're not here to take them to jail."

Sellars estimates three, maybe four out of the 10 names on the list will make it to treatment. But the teams will make sure they go to meetings and are part of a support network. If that means helping them find housing, employment and more, they’ll do it. They want people to know help is out there, and they will get it.

Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services

If you’re struggling with addiction and want to get help, click here.

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