Police and sheriff’s departments have stepped up their enforcement against heroin crimes, but officials say it is too soon to know the effect of their increased efforts.
Geauga County Coroner Dr. Robert Coleman said while there have been some potential heroin overdoses in the county in June and July, complete testing takes time, so final determinations have not been made on those deaths.
Public awareness has certainly increased though, he said. “Is it really having an effect? It’s too early to tell for sure,” Coleman said. “It’s been around for 3,000 years, so it’s probably not going away any time soon.”
Geauga County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Scott Hildenbrand estimated that there has been a heroin overdose in the county about every other month, compared to averaging about one each month last year.
In an effort to battle these overdoses, Lake County in June launched Project DAWN, which seeks to distribute Naloxone, also called Narcan, to trained responders so they could deliver the potentially life-saving drug to opiate addicts.
Sandra Allison, Public Health Social Work supervisor with the Lake County General Health District, said 58 doses of Narcan have been distributed, but the district has yet to receive any feedback yet of it being used to save someone from an overdose, or from a responder seeking a refill.
The district was expected to serve 200 doses in a full year, so at its current pace they are far ahead of projections. “We’re only in month three,” Allison said.
Hildebrand, who is also the fire chief in Hambden Township, said there are no plans to have law enforcement carry the drug in Geauga, but all rescue squads have carried the substance for at least a year. Part of the difficulty with medication is that it must be stored in a cold, climate-controlled environment.
“When you’re putting them in cop cars, it’s difficult to do that,” he said.
The Geauga County Sheriff’s Office also has made more heroin trafficking-related arrests in recent months, including the biggest bust in the county’s history in Newbury Township in June. That seizure recovered 1 kilogram of black tar heroin, in addition to 100 pounds of marijuana, 6 pounds of crystal meth, vials of steroids and 10 firearms.
Although the office has made more arrests, Hildenbrand said it’s difficult to know for sure if that has decreased the quantity of the drug coming into of the county. Some measurements are pointing to a move in the right direction, namely that the price of heroin in the county has increased recently. “That could mean it’s becoming harder to get,” he said.
David A. Frisone, executive director of Lake County Narcotics Agency, said the price of heroin seems to have remained steady in his jurisdiction, but arrests have increased. From January through June of this year, the agency arrested 21 people suspected of heroin trafficking, which is more arrests than cocaine, marijuana and ecstasy trafficking combined, he said.
Part of the increase in arrests is because the agency has learned more about the typical heroin trafficker as compared to people who sell other drugs. Heroin traffickers typically handle smaller quantities and are more mobile, while other drug sellers usually deal larger quantities, he said.
“We may be displacing (heroin) to a degree, but we’re not sure,” said Frisone.
Frisone said he does not think the heroin problem is one that can solely be solved by increasing arrests. A multifaceted, partnered approach among health, law enforcement and educators is needed to truly eliminate the drug. “It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.