Heroin returning as drug of choice

Recently released statistics by the Ohio Departments of Health and Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services revealed that in 2011 the leading cause of illegal drug overdose deaths in Ohio was heroin.
Local law enforcement officials, however, could have told the public that without spending a year going over the data. “The No. 1 drug problem in the city of Lorain is heroin,” said Detective Chris Colon of the Lorain Police Department narcotics bureau.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino agrees. “The resurgence of heroin in Elyria over the past few years is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a drug that has no discrimination. People of all ages and backgrounds use it.”
According to the released statistics, 24.1 percent of overdose deaths in Ohio were because of heroin. That percentage is more than likely going to increase when the 2013 statistics are tallied, according Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh, leader of the Lorain County Drug Task Force. “Last year we had over 65 heroin overdose deaths in the county,” he said. “At this point in 2013 we are close to that number and it appears that the number will jump again this year.”

As the statistics indicate, heroin is not simply a problem in Lorain County, but other counties as well. David Frisone, director of the Lake County Narcotics Agency, said he has seen an increase in heroin use in his county over the past six to nine months.  The Lake County Narcotics Agency has made 26 arrests for heroin alone since June 1.

There have also been more than a dozen drug overdose deaths in the county since August with most of them related to heroin.  Frisone spoke of a recent incident where a man in his 20s told his family he was going to relax in a hotel for a few days. The man ended up overdosing on heroin and “died with a needle in his arm.”  “Those are the kind of tragedies that are definitely avoidable if we make it hard on the people that are selling this stuff,” he said. “We’ll go to whatever lengths we need to put a lid on it.”
However, while heroin abuse continues to be a problem in some counties, others are reporting that they are beginning to win the war against the drug.  Some progress seems to be being made in Cuyahoga County, where the county Common Pleas Court and federal court of drug use and trafficking indicted 92 suspects on Sept. 18.  Of the 92 indicted, two of the people were from Painesville, one from South Euclid and six from Euclid.  “It may be a little too soon to tell what kind of a lasting effect it will have,” said Det. Sgt. Mitch Houser with  the Euclid Police Department.  Even before the indictments, Houser said it seemed like heroin activity was beginning to level off in Euclid.

But that is not to say heroin use was anywhere near “acceptable” numbers.  “Heroin use and availability has reached an epidemic level,” he said.  It is a combination of money and current times that causes Colon to believe that heroin is here for the long haul.  “To start with, heroin addictions tend to begin with addictions to opiate-based pills like Vicodin and Percocet,” Colon said.  “For a little while in the early 2000s, it was easy to get those kinds of pills because prescriptions were being written for them all the time.”

As the potential dangers of opiate-based pills became apparent, the availability of them began to ebb, leading to an increase in street value.  “When people had to start paying more for Vicodin, they began to realize that heroin gave the same type of effect they were looking for at a minimal price,” Colon said.  “That is where the problems really began.”

While heroin is indeed a problem, it does not mean that other drugs have declined in use, said Cavanaugh. “Nothing has really just disappeared,” he said. “We still see our fair share of cocaine and bath salts. Sometimes we even see some really out there things like the DMT lab we discovered in March.”

While heroin is many agencies’ biggest drug problem, other drugs are definitely still affecting communities.  Methamphetamine, thanks to the proliferation of one-pot labs, is no longer relegated to rural areas. With a one-pot lab, people can cook a batch of meth in about an hour by mixing chemicals easily available at stores in a plastic Gatorade bottle, said Frisone.  “You can conceal it a lot easier (than past methods),” he said.

Houser said that when heroin use initially increased, all other drugs saw a steep decline in usage. But now he has seen cocaine activity start to rise again over the past year, which is a big concern to the department.  Costantino agreed. However, he was not as sure as Houser that cocaine activity has dropped over the years.  “We still see plenty of crack cocaine issues,” he said. “We still make arrests, just not as many as before. I don’t know that it necessarily means that the use has dropped. It may just mean that our attention has been drawn elsewhere.”

Aside from the obvious impact of drugs — such as overdose deaths and other health issues — illicit drug use brings with it a host of other problems.  Drug dealers enter a community and violence and weapons often follow. A rise in property crimes also follows a rise in drug use, Houser said.  “As users need money to have funds to get their fix, they’re going to do anything to get it,” he said.  Cavanaugh agreed, saying that drug use goes hand in hand with stealing, whether it is from family members or strangers.
Law enforcement continues to do all it can to fight the illicit drug use and the accompanying crimes.  Houser said the cooperation of the public in Euclid has been great, as police get calls almost daily reporting suspicious drug related activity.

“Those type of phone calls result in enforcement,” he said.  “Our Narcotics Unit continually makes arrests after receiving calls from concerned citizens,” Costantino said.

“When people call law enforcement, it allows us to take action. If we are going to reclaim our cities, it is going to start with the citizens making us aware.”

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