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Heroin Use Discussed by Activists, Police & Fire Chiefs at Covington Meeting

"I guarantee you, Casey did not know the first he used that he was going to become addicted. No one wants to be addicted."

Charlotte Wethington held up a framed photograph of her son, Casey, and displayed it to members of the Austinburg Neighborhood Association on Monday night.

"This is the face of addiction," she said. "It is an equal opportunity disease. I know Casey never intended to become an addict."

The Covington neighborhood welcomed Wethington, a representative from the Kenton County Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse, and the chiefs of the city's fire and police departments to speak to residents.

Casey's Law is named for Wethington's son who died at the age of 23 from a heroin overdose more than ten years ago. It allows for involuntary drug treatment for adults to be recommended by friends or family. Because Casey was over the age of eighteen, Charlotte and her husband were left helpless in 2003 and before in trying to secure help for their troubled son.

"Casey overdoses three times," Wehtington said Monday. "We were not allowed to make any decision before this because he was over th egae of eighteen and it had to be his choice. He did not understand that he could make that choice."

At the time of his final overdose, Casey was in a coma at University Hospital in Cincinnati. "We could decide if we wanted a feeding tube, a cage in his lung to capture blood clots, or have his life support turned off," she said. "Here's something you can take to the bank: the person has to be alive to recover. Thats why it's important for us to do all we can while we can to get help for this individual, whatever it takes."

The tenth anniversary of Casey's Law will be July 13. "We wanted Casey to live in the worst way. We wanted to donate his organs but we couldn't because he was an I.V. drug user," said Wethington, who lives in Morning View and is a retired Kenton County Schools teacher. "But I do believe that God had a much bigger plan for Casey because he's saving more lives today through the law that was passed in his name than he would have by donating his organs."

Lisa Anglin of the Kenton County Alliance hopes to reach children before they try heroin.

"Many times kids are starting with other drugs and sometimes that's viewed as socially acceptable or a rite of passage," Anglin said Monday. "We try to back up to prevent kids from thinking it's acceptable to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or other substances so that those things don't lead on to harder drugs or alter their lives in other ways."

Anglin said that not all kids who drink or use drugs move on to harder drugs but, "It's worth taking a chance to prevent that," she said.

One area where families should keep an eye out is in their medicine cabinets where kids often find drugs to abuse for the first time. She encouraged neighbors to dispose of outdated prescriptions at any one of the twelve drop box locations in the county, all located at police departments. 550 pounds of precription drugs and 140 pounds of over-the-counter drugs have been turned in at these stations.

"That's an immediate thing we can do as citizens," she said.
 
"We all are living the example for kids and we are all responsible to train our kids up in the way that they should go."
 
Meanwhile, heroin overdoses are on the rise in the region as is criminal activity related to the drug.
 
"We've advocated that addiction is a disease. It's not a crime, it's a disease," said Police Chief Spike Jones. "The people we're interested in are the ones selling death on the streets."
 
Jones said the current heroin problem is the worst drug epidemic he has seen in twenty-six years with the department. "It drives copper theft, prostitution, auto vehicle theft, burglaries. It's our top focus as a police department. The entire region is going through it," Jones said. "It's driving our response. It's driving your tax dollars. That's where it's all going right now."
 
But it's not just the police department dealing with an increase in calls related to heroin. 
 
Fire Chief Dan Mathew said that Covington EMTs respond to four or five heroin overdoses a day. "Recently we had three in the same room," Mathew said. "It's scary but again, it's not a Covington problem and many EMS providers in the area will tell you we're seeing more."
 
"It's a symptom of what heroin is being cut with. We have functioning heroin addicts in our community. They go to the methadone clinic and go to work. They're productive people. Sometimes they relapse and take a usual hit and it's cut with something different and they literally die right there with a needle still in their arm. It's a problem"
 
An anti-heroin bill was still being debated as of this writing during the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly session.
 
As the region continues its battle against heroin, Wethington urges families to have conversations about the drug, especially if there are suspicions that a loved one is suffering from addiction.
 
"Secrets are deadly," she said. "I would urge you, that if you have someone that you are concerned about that you talk about it because that's the only way we're going to make a difference in this."
 
Her husband survived a revent bout with cancer after getting a stem cell implant. Wethington hopes that similar research will be made to cure addicts. "He's alive because of research," she said of her husband. "That's what we need for addiction."
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
 
Photo: Charlotte Wethington holds a photo of her son Casey at an Austinburg Neighborhood Association meeting/RCN