Thursday, February 6, 2003

Heroin surprises Alexandria


Small town has big problem, meeting told

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ALEXANDRIA - About 350 people packed the firehouse here for a public meeting on a most unlikely topic: heroin.

"What we are dealing with is a problem that our teens are facing," Alexandria Police Chief Mike Ward, one of the meeting organizers, said to the group crowded into the firehouse. "This is truly a communitywide problem, not just Alexandria or Campbell County. We have to come together and recognize it in order to come up with a plan to tackle it."

"First it takes their brain, then it takes their body, and finally it takes their soul," Charlotte Wethington, of Morningview told the crowd of the drug that killed her only son in August. She was one of about 20 people who spoke.

Other people who spoke included a father whose son is in jail on drug charges, a mother who is frustrated at the lack of drug treatment programs for children, a mother who had lost her son to heroin and a high school student who said he is a recovering heroin addict.

Campbell County officials are dealing with the illicit opiate and its effects on a nearly daily basis.

Late in 2002, a Campbell County grand jury indicted an 18-year-old Melbourne woman after she and her male acquaintance sold heroin to undercover officers on three different occasions.

Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorney Jack Porter said these arrests, along with the suspected fatal overdoses of four young men who grew up in Northern Kentucky, are anecdotal evidence of the rising problem of heroin use among Northern Kentucky's young.

"It is unusual to see a 18-year-old girl trafficking any kind of a drug," Porter said. "It's the first time in my 14 years as a prosecutor I've ever had someone this young arrested for dealing heroin."

At the meeting to answer questions and present evidence that there is a heroin problem in this small rural town and those surrounding it were various Campbell County officials and Dr. Mike Kalfas, medical director of the St. Luke Hospital Alcohol & Drug Treatment Center in Falmouth.

Kalfas said his 28-bed detoxification center, which isn't licensed to accept patients under the age of 18, is treating an average of three to 10 heroin addicts at any given time. Kalfas said that as the prescription drug OxyContin became harder and more expensive to buy on the black market, he saw a spike in heroin use.

In the last six months, his treatment center has treated 160 adults with heroin addiction.

He believe the drug made inroads into Northern Kentucky because officials, from police to health care workers, just were not looking for the signs of heroin use.

"No one was thinking of heroin here," said Kalfas. "They thought: `You see heroin on Miami Vice, not Northern Kentucky.'"

Three mothers of Northern Kentucky youths who have died of possible heroin overdoses since August attended the meeting to make people aware of the problem.

One of the moms, Charlotte Wethington lost her son, 23-year-old CaseyWethington, to a heroin overdose. He grew up in southern Kenton County but was living in Cincinnati near UC, where he attended school.

"My son said he had a love affair with heroin," she said, "and I had no clue what he was talking about. I know what he meant. Heroin had become the most important thing in his life. More important than school, money or sex. He would do anything to get it."

She lobbied at the Wednesday meeting to gain support for proposed legislation in Frankfort that would allow parents of children over the age of 18 to commit their son or daughter to involuntary drug treatment.

Casey Wethington checked himself out of an in-patient treatment center after only six days in the months leading up to his death.

The informational forum lasted about two hours.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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