A New Middleton man was sent back to prison, and is just the latest in an alarming number of people who turn to crime after their lives have been taken over by drug addiction.

Prosecutors said John Woods is the textbook heroin user who starts small but whose addiction becomes so overwhelming he ends up kicking in doors to steal whatever he can sell quickly and fuel his drug habit. 

Woods on Thursday was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in a local burglary ring where suspects broke into dozens of homes around the area to steal jewelry and other merchandise, then sold the items to a now-closed check-into-cash business on Youngstown’s South Side. Woods then used the money to buy more heroin.

Walking into court, Woods told the judge that after years of heroin addiction, he’s now a changed man.

“I’m not the person today that I was when I was doing these,” Woods told Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Lou D’Apolito. “I stand before you 344 days clean today.”

Prosecutors said this type of crime is so widespread throughout the country now that addicts will even turn to mail-in gold exchange businesses as a way to get quick cash for what they’ve stolen.

“There is some responsibility on the business owners, the pawn shops, the gold exchanges, things like that, that deal these precious metals to take that extra step, or that step period, to ensure they’re not getting stolen goods from heroin addicts,” said Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Marty Desmond. “If you’re sending check after check after check to the same person, that it’s for large amounts of jewelry, there should be a light that goes off and we have plenty of dealers who turn people away.”

Police said addicts often try to sell items to pawn shops and other businesses dealing in precious metals. Poland Township Police Det. Greg Wilson, who is assigned to the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force, said in some cases they will take the property directly to a person who is selling heroin and trade that property for heroin.

In this particular case, authorities said Woods tried to sell off a 1973 high school class ring that was eight years older than he is.

For his crimes, Woods was sentenced to 12 years in prison and will have to cooperate with authorities against the seven other alleged members of the burglary ring.

In the meantime, prosecutors said unless society can find a way of addressing this drug problem, especially with heroin, there likely will be a lot more similar cases coming through the criminal justice system in the future.