The country’s drug abuse problem has plagued the American dream, but lives have been shattered at a local level and officials have seen enough.
Lorain County recorded 67 deaths related to opiates last year.
According to City Manager Eric Norenberg, four opiate-related overdoses in 2012 resulted in two deaths in Oberlin, where a forum was held at the public library April 8 to shed light on the county’s drug problem.
The panel featured area experts, including Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans. A short film on prescription drug abuse among teens sponsored by Parents360 Rx was shown to the audience of about 40 attendees before Evans spoke.
“What you saw there is what we’re seeing every day in Lorain County,” Evans said following the film.
Evans said the county’s drug problem stems from more than heroin, which has gained a reputation in Lorain County. In fact, prescription drugs, which have the same effects as heroin, are the true culprit. Most local overdoses are from narcotic pills, including Vicodin, oxycontin and codeine.
“I call it heroin in pill form,” Evans said.
One to two people in Lorain County die each week from drug overdose, according to Evans, who said the drug problem no longer retains its urban stereotype.
“This is not the drug problem that we used to have,” Evans said. “Something new is happening.”
Addiction has branched outward, creeping into suburban areas, afflicting the middle-class. Even America’s quiet communities such as Oberlin have seen lives tarnished by narcotics.
“We’re right in the middle in the eye of storm of this drug problem,” Evans said.
In 2007, accidental drug overdoses surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio.
From 1999 to 2011, Ohio’s death rate because of unintentional drug overdoses increased 440 percent, driven largely by prescription drug overdoses, Evans said.
Drug abuse knows no socioeconomic demographic, nor does it know age or gender.
Evans said opiate-related deaths in 2014 have been split among men and women. On average, more drug users are aged 15-50, but Evans said he has seen overdoses in people as young as 2 and as old as a 70-year-old man who shared heroin with his grandson.
Blame for the country’s drug problem rests within different points, Evans said.
Prescription drugs have become more readily available to consumers compared to past decades. Evans said the amount of pain pills produced runs parallel to their number of consequential deaths.
“It’s a one-on-one relationship,” he said.
Fault lies everywhere from drug companies to the government, medical community and public, but Evans said it’s up to the public to combat the problem.
“The way to put a business out of business is to stop buying their product,” Evans said. “The problem is the genie is out of the bottle. It’s hard to get it back in the bottle.”
One step Lorain County has taken toward overcoming fatal overdoses is the Lorain County Drug Task Force’s use of narcan, an antidote to opiates, within its law enforcement squads.
County law enforcement agencies began using narcan in October 2013. Since then, 28 lives have been saved when narcan was administered to opiate overdose victims. Narcan’s success in Lorain County has generated recognition, including Ohio House Bill 170, which puts narcan in the hands of first responders statewide. Evans said narcan use is now going national.
“We’re proud of this,” Det. Gregg Mehling said of the Lorain County Drug Task Force.
He said more than 300 county law enforcement officers were trained to use narcan. Mehling said parents can help their children avoid narcan before it’s ever needed.
“Ask a child if they know where to go to get heroin or pills,” he said. “If that child says yes, you’ve got a child at risk.”
Drug abuse leads to other illegal operations, such as theft to fund addiction. While local law enforcement agencies have maintained a watchful eye on drug trafficking and abuse, Mehling said arrests won’t cure addiction.
“Can we arrest our way out of this problem?” he said. “Absolutely not.”