ADDICTED: The impact of the epidemic
The heroin and opiate epidemic is something 21 News first began investigating back in November.
In part one of this new series of reports, Addicted, we explore the widespread, merciless drug problem that's killing people at an alarming rate.
Heroin and opiate use in the Mahoning Valley, and statewide, is becoming a public health crisis and use of the drugs is killing young people in record numbers.
Angelo Martino, Sr., of Boardman, never thought he would see the day that his child would fall victim. "Most people think that this happens to someone else, and the reality of it is, I didn't understand the magnitude of finding a child deceased.. And it didn't happen to someone else, it happened to me."
A.J. Martino's story is tragically all too familiar. "A.J. was a very loving person, a kind soul, loved his grandparents, loved his parents," Martino, Sr. said with tears in his eyes.
Born in the suburbs, A.J., was an athlete and college graduate who was injured in a car accident and prescribed pain killers for an injury. When those pain killers were no longer available, he turned to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to come by on the streets.
"It was about what the car accident and what the prescription for oxycontin led him to do. Things that he wouldn't be proud of, but it wasn't about being high, it was about feeling normal," Martino, Sr. said.
Mahoning Valley's Drug Task Force says the heroin problem has been getting steadily worse over the last six or seven years, and it's a war on the streets that's has a dangerous hold on the community. Task Force Commander Jeff Solic witnessed it first hand during undercover sting operations.
Drug dealers would drive-by and all of these cars would follow them, and you would see folks in shirts and ties jumping up, running up, fighting each other to get to the front of the line because the traffickers only carried so much on them," Commander Solic said.
You might ask why you should care. Law enforcement officials say if your family hasn't been touched by it, they will be because addicts are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to feed that addiction, and it's costing every single one of us.
"Everyday in Austintown Township we make arrests of shoplifters, and they're not stealing to feed their family and clothe their family and kids," said Commander Solic.
Armed with the lessons learned from his personal tragedy, Angelo Martino is a father now speaking to young people around the Valley and nationwide; to educate others about this killer addiction so that their lives may be spared and so that other parents won't know his pain.
"I speak in A.J.'s name so that people know that the past does not have to equal the future," Martino said.
Opiate addiction is a race that comes down to survival. Survival that cannot happen without treatment, but as we've learned there are some barriers to treatment for those addicted. 21 News investigates that story Tuesday night at six.