Heroin haunts Ottawa County

Heroin kills.  It might as well be the slogan for Ottawa County’s drug problem these last few years.

“It’s everywhere now,” said Carl Rider, an agent with the Ottawa County Drug Task Force. “This isn’t an inner-city issue anymore.”

The county’s drug task force has dealt with a consistent and disturbing amount of heroin since 2011.

Consider this: While cocaine, prescription pills and marijuana cases have decreased in Ottawa County in six years, heroin has remained a consistent killer.

Agents seized heroin during at least 20 separate instances during undercover operations and traffic stops in 2016. It almost approaches the record 23 heroin seizures from 2011.

Additionally, more than 15 people died in Ottawa County from suspected opiate-related overdoses in 2016. That number would be significantly higher if Ottawa County counted overdoses that occurred in the county but were treated elsewhere, like in a Toledo or Cleveland hospital.

“The number of deaths this year was higher than what we saw in 2015,” Rider said. “We averaged more than one death per month, and that’s bad for a small county.”

The death toll, coupled with the unsettling number of heroin cases, has agents worried. For some addicts, it seems the pursuit of drugs is worth risking death when they inject an unknown, poisonous substance into their veins.

Take a case this fall, when a local woman who died of an overdose believed she was getting high on heroin. In reality, fentanyl — a more powerful drug that looks like heroin — entered her system. The potency resulted in her having five times a lethal dose of the drug in her body.

Another man, who suffered from a fatal overdose earlier this year, had a combination of cocaine, hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl in his system.

“This is one reason why people overdose,” Rider said. “There’s no consistency in the product.”

Change the system

A contingent of area officials no longer believes they can “arrest their way” out of this problem.

They’re resolved to finding and delivering treatment solutions in order to get the opiate epidemic somewhat under control.

Most notably, the Erie County Health Department opened a detox center, which is also available for Ottawa County residents. Meanwhile, some Townsend Community School representatives want to establish a school solely for both recovering student and teachers.

Additionally, Ottawa County’s drug and mental health courts are making a difference, said James VanEerten, the Ottawa County prosecutor-elect and common pleas court administrator.

“We should work on plugging addicts into treatment services,” VanEerten said. “We also need to improve on following up on calls that required the use of Narcan.”

Rider shared the same sentiment, especially since addicts who receive treatment can overdose very easily.

A recovering addict is more likely to overdose if they relapse. That’s because their bodies, upon detoxing, aren’t used to the drug anymore, Rider said.

But treatment is just one part of a larger plan. VanEerten views the fight against the drug epidemic as a multi-step battle.

“We still need to continue targeting heroin and opiates coming into Ottawa County,” VanEerten said. “Ohio is among the states with the most overdoses. As the prosecutor, I also want to focus on getting the drugs off the streets.”

One way of cleaning up the streets: stricter sentences for drug dealers.

“We need to make plea bargaining the exception rather than the rule,” VanEerten said.

Another avenue calls on addicts to help their fellow neighbor.

For instance, Ohio House Bill 110 provides immunity to a person seeking help for an overdose victim, even if they themselves are found with drugs.

“We need to get the word out about this bill,” VanEerten said. “It could save lives.”

The Ottawa County prosecutor’s office oversees the county drug task force. VanEerten said he plans to build on the task force’s good practices to further help residents.

“One of the things I ran on was to continue the task force’s efforts so we don’t develop a revolving door for drug traffickers,” VanEerten said. “We need to take a hardline against traffickers in the courtroom.”

Published by sanduskyregister.com

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