Wayne County drug activity takes on new kind of profile

Drugs continue to be a top law enforcement priority across Wayne Counties. The local drug scene evolved in 2015, early in the year when two things occurred.

First, the meth industry hit record highs. The other issue was heroin overdoses.

The Medway Drug Enforcement Agency started off the year with two high-profile cases that set the stage for the rest of the year.

The first occurred in January at a Gasche Street home where three people were arrested and hundreds of syringes were found. The case stuck out because powdered fentanyl, valued at $8,000, also was seized.

"It's the type of fentanyl that is something which would be manufactured in a clandestine lab," said Don Hall, director of Medway.

Fentanyl, which is a more powerful opiate than heroin, has been known to be cut into heroin or sold as heroin. Either way, it can lead to individuals to overdose believing it to be simple heroin or something else entirely.

The case led to legislation introduced in Columbus to better equip law enforcement and prosecutors when dealing with these cases.

The second case Medway responded to took place weeks later when agents discovered a "super meth lab" at a Vine Street home in Wooster. A total of 43 one-pot labs were discovered.

The super lab also came on the heels of the discovery of a handful of meth labs.

Through 2015, Hall said Medway presented 115 felony charges related to meth making -- 37 percent of cases the agency took to a grand jury. He said more than 2,000 grams, or four pounds, of meth was seized on the streets last year.

Additionally, due to the hazardous nature of manufacturing the drug, several fires were attributed to people making meth.

The number of felony charges in 2014 stood at 77 (for 27 percent of all charges); 34 in 2013.

This just goes to show the increase in charges, Hall said of meth, and put Wayne County in the top five for meth-producing counties across Ohio; Summit County sits atop that list.

Hall said heroin resulted in 49 felony charges from Medway cases last year (16 percent of total cases). That number is down from 2014, when Medway had 73 charges related to heroin.

He said this doesn't mean heroin was not as prevalent, just that cleaning up meth sites is time-consuming and takes away from making heroin buys on the streets.

Despite the prevalence of meth, the dangers of heroin came to the forefront in 2015.

"While we've seen an increase in meth cases, rarely are they correlated with actual deaths," said Wayne County Sheriff's Capt. Doug Hunter.

The heroin problem reached epidemic proportions.

For all of 2015, there were 20 overdose deaths linked to heroin and/or fentanyl, according to Luke Reynolds, investigator for the Wayne County Coroner's Office. The figure was a record for overdose deaths in Wayne County.

That is up from 2014, when there were 12 overdose deaths.

Put another way, last year more people in Wayne County died from a heroin overdose than car crashes; eight deaths in 2015 were from traffic crashes.

Hunter posited that number is "misleading," due to the number of lives saved by Narcan, a nasally-administered drug that reverses the effects of opiates.

Nearly every law enforcement agency and fire department in the county has access to Narcan.

Wooster Fire Department Chief Barry Saley said Narcan was administered 40 times in 2015, up from 32 times the previous year.

"The type of call isn't new to us," Saley said. Instead, he noted the demographics have evolved. "It's not as isolated to any one age group or socio-economic group."

Out of 35 medications the Wooster FD squads administer, Narcan is in the top five; three of the top drugs are cardiac-related and another is respiratory.

Hunter said two cases stick out to him related to heroin overdoses.

The first occurred in March when the body of a Medina man was found north of Wooster along an oil access road. Two people were charged for dumping his body after he died of a reported heroin overdose.

The second case involved a woman who died in August of a heroin overdose at a Sterling home. The man who reported her unresponsive was indicted for his involvement in allegedly supplying her with heroin.

It was later learned the woman gave birth to a child at the home hours before she was taken to the hospital. The child had died, was placed in a cardboard box and set in the bath tub.

"The whole heroin situation, not only in Wayne County but across the country... is an epidemic that can strike all levels of economic status," Hunter said. "Heroin is a drug that really has our attention."

Reporter Steve Huszai can be reached at 330-287-1645 or shuszai@the-daily-record.com. He is @GeneralSmithie on Twitter.

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