The Ohio Attorney General declared “we have an epidemic,” and that epidemic is heroin and other opiate-based drugs.

“(Opiates are) tearing apart families … (it affects) both sexes, all races, and all income levels,” said Mike DeWine during a “Taking Back Our Communities” conference Thursday at Wooster Nazarene Church. The daylong event aimed to engage the faith community’s help in fighting the battle.

DeWine said when he started as a county prosecutor 30 years ago, heroin was something found in big cities and contained within a small population. And even among drug addicts, there was a “psychological barrier” that contained heroin.

“Today that barrier is gone. … We need to re-erect it,” DeWine said.

Combatting opiates has been a prime topic during his tenure as attorney general and even led Dewine’s office to start a heroin unit to assist law enforcement. But DeWine pointed out “we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem. … This is not a production problem, this is a consumption problem.”

A video before his speech told the story of one of his own workers whose daughter suffered and eventually overdosed on heroin. DeWine said every time he watches that video it has an affect on him.

He and other leaders who see and deal with the heroin/opiate problem in Wayne County, said the faith community has a key role to play in assisting with follow-up to addicts once they have started to address their problems.

Prosecutor Dan Lutz said the church community needs to be the body of Christ and “we are asking you to bring that to life” in order to assist those with addictions.

Lutz said addiction has greatly affected children. The assistant prosecutor who handles cases for Wayne County Children Services said more than 25 percent of child removal cases revolve around opiate addictions.

He provided details on a handful of cases just from 2015 in which children were either exposed to used or uncapped syringes, babies were stillborn to an addict mother or children were instructed by their mother what to do should she overdose.

Lutz said addictions are one of the prime reasons people commit crimes and seek to steal from friends and relatives. His office is prosecuting more theft cases and, a majority of them are tied to someone seeking to fund their addiction, he said.

One attorney in Lutz’s office had her home broken into by someone seeking to steal to fund addiction.

Common Pleas Judge Corey Spitler said, “Opiate is an entirely different drug” than anything local leaders have seen, noting over the last year or two, drug court “success rates,” which he explained was essentially a graduation rate, hovered around 36 percent. But even some of those folks end right back in drug court.

“Frankly, the easiest thing for me to do is send them to prison,” Spitler said.

But that doesn’t address their underlying addiction issue. “What I’m doing when I send someone to prison is I’m saying I’m giving up on you,” he said. And then once a person leaves prison, he or she will bring those problems right back into the community.

Spitler quoted, not Scripture, but Snoop Dogg when he said, “If you ain’t losing friends, you ain’t growing up.”

The judge said the hardest part for recovering addicts is to change their associations, which is where the faith community can play a role.

Don Hall, director of the Medway Drug Enforcement Agency, said the opiate issue is larger than just heroin and takes several months or years to infiltrate.

Hall said a man with ties to Detroit was sent to prison after he was found selling $25,000 worth of opiate-based pills in Wooster each week.

And Wayne County Coroner Dr. Amy Jolliff said when looking at statistics for Wayne County drug overdoses in the past few years, 33 percent of deaths are people over the age of 50.

“We need to know who’s overusing drugs,” she said. “We cannot focus only on the 20-year-olds.”

And she added as a part-time coroner with one full-time employee, “we cannot afford to have people get to me.”

By STEVEN F. HUSZAI  @the-daily-record.com