It’s clear heroin and other harmful drugs have a tight grip on the area.

Numerous overdoses and drug deaths are reported each year.

“We’re definitely not isolated from it,” Ottawa County commissioner Jim Sass said. “Heroin used to be an inner city drug. But it’s here in Ottawa County, right now. So we deal with it.”

It’s an uphill battle for elected officials, court employees and law enforcement officers. 

How can they fight back?

“We do what we can with funding to support counseling programs; the drug task force; and programs within the court,” commissioner JoEllen Regal said.

Additionally, the county has prescription drug drop-off locations found in many local police departements. Narcan, a compound used to bring people back from an overdose, is also being used by road deputies, commissioner Mark Stahl said.

“The intent here is to help get drugs off the streets and allocate resources to help those with addiction,” Sass said.

Flooded court

It seems Ottawa County Common Pleas Court is constantly dealing with drug-related crimes.

In fact, almost 80 percent of all cases that pass through the court can be traced back to drugs, Judge Bruce Winters said.

“The drug problem has gotten much worse,” Winters said. “There are plenty of possession and trafficking cases, but there are even more cases involving breaking and entering, impaired driving, child support, thefts and shoplifting. Many of those cases involve addicts who are looking for drugs or money for drugs.”

He continued: “While I’ve seen a marginal uptick in the number of people struggling with addiction, the worst part seems to the the burgeoning use of heroin. Heroin kills. I think it kills everyone who remains addicted to it eventually.”

But while the heroin problem remains a popular talking point, the solution remains illusive for many addicts struggling in the area.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this,” said Carl Rider, an agent with the Ottawa County Drug Task Force. “There needs to be recovery, counseling and detoxing available.”

Recovery

The court employs several in-house programs to help addicts on the road to recovery.

For instance, the Ottawa County Drug Addiction Treatment Alliance program graduated its first participant, Bryan Hofacker, in March.

Hofacker struggled with drug and alcohol abuse for years before entering the program.

The program helps lead addicts to sobriety through coaching, care and support, program coordinator Katelyn Ritzler said.

“Our mission is to establish longterm sobriety and to create proactive, positive citizens, Ritzler said. “This kind of program has been growing in popularity. In these cases, the judge is an ally, not the punisher.”

Hofacker’s brother, Tim, cried as he congratulated his brother during his March graduation.

“We all thought he was going to be six feet under,” Tim said. “I’m proud of him for becoming sober.”

Ottawa County Common Pleas Court employees haven’t stopped there.

In fact, there are numerous officials and counselors dedicated to assisting locals struggling with addiction.

Among other in-house recovery initiatives:

• Intensive outpatient treatment: a 16-week counseling program featuring 16 hours of dedicated work on addiction recovery each week. Similar services can be found at Bayshore Counseling and Firelands Counseling.

• Drug testing for everyone released on bail or on probation

“We need to make sure certain individuals on probation are law abiding,” Winters said. “We have a similar obligation to the community for those released on bail.”

More than 3,300 drug tests are conducted through the court annually.

• Drug court: A place for addicts passing through the court system to find intensive supervision. Participants remain in drug court for a minimum of 18 months.

“All providing services meet with me once per week to discuss addicts progress and setbacks,” Winters said. “We review their attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and their participation in drug, alcohol and mental health treatment.”

• Mental Health Court: An internal Ottawa County program to help those struggling with mental health issues, which can have drug abuse connections.

• Community-based correctional programs: These are six-month lock-in treatment facilities run by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

“Heroin kills and there’s no easy solution,” Winters said. “Recovery is possible, but there’s no cookie cutter approach that will work on everyone. Every addict comes in with their own special circumstances, strengths and weaknesses.”

Looking for help in the area? Check out these services:

• Lighthouse Sober Living: A sober living community in Port Clinton; 419-967-9550, 515 East 5th St., Port Clinton.

• Ottawa County Drug Addiction Treatment Alliance: A court drug treatment program featuring dedicated sponsors and a plan to get you clean; 419-635-5366 or 419-734-6791.

• Mental Health Court: Organized by Ottawa County Common Pleas Court and lead by court administrator James VanEerten. For questions, reach them at 419-734-6791; visit 315 Madison Street, Port Clinton.

• Bayshore Counseling Services: Seek help with drugs, alcohol, gambling and other addictions; 419-734-5535, 201 Madison St., Port Clinton.

• Firelands Counseling — Outpatient services for mental health, alcohol and other drug treatment services. They have locations in Port Clinton, Genoa, Sandusky, Fremont, Bellevue, Norwalk, and Willard. 419-557-5177.

Reach reporter Patrick Pfanner at pfanner@sanduskyregister.com.