Columbiana drug task force keeps busy

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Wednesday that heroin is an epidemic across Ohio.

Locally, one drug task force is tackling the problem head on and is preparing for the next epidemic.

"If you are going to be a drug dealer, Columbiana County is not where you want to be," said Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck.

Last year ended up being one of the best for the Columbiana County Drug Task Force team. They busted seven meth labs and investigated nearly double the amount of cases in one year than they have on average over the past 10 years.

"Bear in mind we only ramped this up over the past six months and it is paying huge dividends right now," Halleck said.

The task force handled 148 cases last year alone after averaging 85 cases each year from 2001 to 2012.

Those statistics are one of the reasons why the task force is receiving $100,000 in additional funding from the county's general fund.

Halleck said the funding shows the county's commitment to trying to eliminate the drug problem in the area.

"The drug problem affects every walk of life, from the scale of economics to the quality of life. And it is something that sadly was not taken as seriously as we thought it should have been and so we took a step forward," Halleck said.

Just last year, the task force seized more than 500 grams of methamphetamine, 530 grams of crack cocaine and 140 grams of heroin, which task force commander Lt. Brian McLaughlin said has been the drug of choice in the county since 2005.

"From 1992 until December 2004, there was only 220 doses, units, that were taken in heroin. In 2004 alone, we took 1,452 units, so it really exploded in one year," McLaughlin said.

That explosion continues today. McLaghlin said the cheap cost of the drug is one of the reasons why it is so popular, but he also sees a new trend forming, with drugs that have ingredients that are easy to find, easy to make and are cheap.

"I have been in law enforcement for 23 years. They are always trying to change the ways they do things to get around us. Bath salts is hitting pretty good. This synthetic stuff is hitting pretty good too. We saw a lot more this year than we have in the past," McLaughlin said.

Halleck said it has been a team effort throughout the county to tackle the drug problem and the Columbiana County Drug Task Force will add additional members in the near future.

"It's a war worth fighting. It's one that we are fighting," he said.

Gov. John Kasich wants parents and adults to talk to children about the dangers of abusing drugs and other substances, as the state works to combat problems with prescription pain pills and heroin.

Drug overdoses, spurred by increased use of painkillers and heroin, has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.

Kasich on Wednesday promoted a state initiative aimed at getting the drug-free message to middle and high school students. The governor's "Start Talking" initiative draws from new and existing drug prevention programs.

A state website for the initiative directs parents and school leaders to free resources from The Partnership at The information includes a video, discussion guide and documents so adults can speak more confidently to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Parents, teachers and caregivers also can sign up for twice-monthly emailed newsletters from the Drug Free Action Alliance for tips about how to talk to their children about the issue.

Roughly two out of 10 of high school students reported having ever used prescription pain relievers or painkillers without a doctor's prescription, according to a 2011 survey of 9th to 12th graders by Ohio's health department.

Other efforts in the initiative include a program in which members of the State Highway Patrol and Ohio National Guard meet with high school athletes and encourage them to talk to their peers about being drug-free.

Ohio officials also will soon take grant applications from schools and nonprofits in low-income areas whose drug prevention efforts might not have enough money or resources. The state expects to award the federal dollars in April so that the programs can begin during the fall school year.

Ohio has tried to choke off supply and cut pain pill abuse. But the quick spread in recent years in the United States of cheap, potent heroin from Mexico and other countries has sent drug abuse and overdoses skyrocketing in the region.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine calls heroin abuse an epidemic that kills at least 11 Ohioans a week. DeWine's office has said there were than 600 heroin overdose deaths in the state in 2012, a figure that more than doubled since 2010.

School and parent participation in the initiative is voluntary, though the state says it has commitments from districts that plan to use the materials.

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