While the battle against heroin in Lorain County rages on, law enforcement officials say they are making strides against the epidemic while saving lives in the process.
According to the Lorain County Coroner’s Office, the rise of heroin started about six years ago and culminated in 2012 when the amount of drug related deaths tripled from 2011.
In 2013, the Coroner’s Office reported 69 drug-related deaths, 33 of which were directly tied to heroin. In 2014 the numbers dropped down to 65 drug-related deaths, with 24 being linked to the drug.
Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans attributes the drop in cases to Project D.A.W.N. (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) and local law enforcement’s ability to administer Narcan. In October of 2013, Project D.A.W.N. started as a pilot program that allowed officers to carry Narcan and administer it to individuals who had overdosed on opiates.
“I think Narcan stopped the exponential growth of heroin-related overdoses and we are starting to see results of overall deaths decreasing,” Evans said.
Heroin originally gained traction throughout the county, state and country as prescription opiates were readily dispensed by doctors and people started abusing the drugs.
When people prescribing medication realized it was creating a problem they became more judicious about prescribing pain medicines and that caused addicts to turn to the street for a cheaper alternative, Evans said.
Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and commander of the Lorain County Drug Task Force, said that the high prices of prescription pills led into opiate addicts buying heroin.
According to Cavanaugh, opiate-based pills can reach $1 per milligram on the street and heroin is generally cheaper.
Heroin investigations have reached nearly 87 to 90 percent of all drug investigations covered by the task force, he said.
Another drug first reported as heroin was introduced in Lorain County several years ago, Cavanaugh said, and the drug was later identified as a mix of fentanyl and quinine.
Commonly referred to by pink heroin on the street, fentanyl was sold by dealers as heroin and led to multiple overdoses after it was introduced.
According to the Coroner’s Office, fentanyl is anywhere from 10 to 50 times as strong as heroin and looks the same so people started overdosing and dying from it.
In the past 12 months law enforcement have seized over a kilogram of heroin and made dents into the supply of the area, according to Sgt. Tom Nimon of the Lorain police narcotics bureau.
“Unfortunately as one suppler goes down, another one rises to take its spot,” Nimon said.
There are three narcotics agencies within the county consisting of Lorain, Elyria and the Sheriff’s Office, and all three work together, Nimon said.
Lorain and Elyria are fairly insubstantial in size and there are only a limited number of officers that make up each unit, so it’s beneficial that they can work mutual investigations or ask for assistance when dealing with heroin, he said.
“I don’t think any of us are naive enough to think that it is going to stop so that’s why we continue to work together and work harder,” Elyria Police Capt. Chris Costantino said.
Costantino said that heroin acts as a springboard for crimes in the county and addiction often times can lead to robberies, burglaries and auto thefts as people try to come up with money to feed their habit.
"We will continue to send a strong message that it is not going to be tolerated in our cities," he said. "It’s a business that’s very lucrative for people dealing the drug, but we will continue to use every resource we have to go after it and help those that need it.
“In the whole scheme of things I think people would tend to agree there has to be more of an emphasis on treatment and to continue to look at ways to get people off of this drug,” Costantino said.
Cavanaugh shared a similar sentiment, “We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem. It is a multifaceted approach we have to take with law enforcement, rehabilitation and education centers.”