Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine spoke to Preble County law enforcement officials last week regarding the heroin “epidemic” in the state of Ohio, and in Preble County.
While he was the Prosecuting Attorney of Greene County, Attorney General Mike DeWine said heroin at the time was found specifically in Dayton due to it’s low-cost and high availability.
However, as time has progressed, law enforcement on both the county level and city level, as well as those involved in the heroin addiction recovery process, have seen a dramatic change in the way the opiate has had an effect on Preble County.
“It’s in the suburbs, it’s in the rural areas, it’s in the cities. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful. The Mexican cartels know how to get it up here, they know how to sell it and it’s killing people,” said Attorney General DeWine.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that poor people do drugs, that’s not the case, and anyway, there are a lot of people that are struggling financially that aren’t turning to drugs. The people that are on heroin, their goal each day isn’t to be a productive part of society,” said Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson.
According to the Attorney General’s website, Ohio’s heroin-related deaths jumped from 315 to 725 from 2010 to 2012, according to collected data from county coroners by the Attorney General’s office. In 2013, Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission task forces seized nearly 33 pounds of heroin, which was estimated to be nearly $1.5 million in street value according to the website.
“The word ‘epidemic’ is being used in Ohio and Preble County is faced with that, I mean we’re right smack in the middle of it. Our heroin comes from Dayton, and we have a tremendous amount of people over here that are users and dealers… It’s the people you don’t think it’s affecting, it probably is,” said Simpson.
Simpson also said heroin is a “driving force” behind property crimes, thefts, and burglaries. Simpson said that within the past three years, he has seen a large increase in the use and sales of heroin within the county. “It’s close, it’s in Dayton, it’s cheap, and it’s highly addictive. I think those are your three common factors right there,” he said.
Eaton Police Chief Chad DePew, who has been on the force since 2002, has noticed the change in the drug pattern in that methamphetamine was the most prevalent drug of choice between 2002 and 2004, but the most common drug lately has been heroin.
“We see a lot of it. You know, ten years ago, heroin was rare around here, we didn’t see it a lot. Now, we’re literally seeing it every week,” said DePew.
Instead of asking those at a traffic stops or domestic violence calls if they have been drinking alcohol, DePew has had to ask “have you been using heroin?” From 2000-2010 drug-related arrests increased 344 percent in the City of Eaton, according to the CLEE Strategic Plan, prepared by DePew.
On the recovery side of addiction, Kelli Ott, the Executive Director of the Preble County Mental Health and Recovery Board said, “When I first got here (in 2004)… it was pretty prevalent that we would see that either alcohol or marijuana were the primary drug of choice that people would report when they came in for treatment. Heroin is like, skyrocketing now, which is amazing to me,” said Ott. “Now we’re seeing so much heroin use, particularly in the adults.”
Simpson tells a story of a vehicle containing three passengers, which was sitting in the middle of the street in Preble County, where all three individuals in the vehicle were believed to be on opiates, including heroin. He said the passenger of the vehicle was passed out due to being on a large amount of heroin, at which point EMS got involved. Two of the individuals were subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment.
“You know, we’re not unique compared to anyone else, and our problems are no bigger than anywhere else. It’s obviously a problem, and it’s a problem in the whole state,” said DePew.
DePew said that he has noticed the source of Preble County’s heroin has come from either Richmond, Indiana, but more commonly Dayton. A brown powdered form of heroin has been recognized to be the most common form of heroin in Preble County by both DePew and Simpson.
‘Heroin is just more abundant right now, and that’s why it’s so cheap,” said DePew.
“If you need heroin, you can virtually drive to a neighborhood in Dayton, and stop and it’s like curb service… Dayton is a huge hub for it,” Simpson said.
The Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network (OSAM), conducted a study focusing on the Dayton region of Ohio, which includes Preble County. In the report, OSAM questioned various individuals regarding heroin in the Dayton region. It reads, “Participants and community professionals alike identified Dayton as a hub for individuals from surrounding counties and areas to buy heroin.” One participant interviewed for the report stated that heroin users come “from 100, 150 miles away because we have cheap heroin.” Another participant agreed and said, “They’re driving several hours. I mean I had a college student from Athens, Ohio …. driving to Dayton daily [to purchase heroin].”
While the City of Eaton hasn’t experienced many deaths related to overdoses, DePew said that paramedics are now taking precautions when immediately treating a person who is high on heroin. A drug known as “Narcan” is being used as an injection for people who are high.
“The drug itself attaches itself to blood cells that absorb the heroin. What the [Narcan] does, it that it takes over the drug attached to those blood cells and kinda kicks it out of your system,” said DePew.
“It almost immediately brings people out of the high they’re in. It really saves people’s lives.”
DePew went on to say, “We have had cases where people have died from heroin, and those are tragic.”
“You’ll see people basically destroying their lives due to this drug, and it’s sad to watch,” he added.
The OSAM report states, “Heroin, reportedly, is used in combination with alcohol, marijuana and sedative hypnotics (Xanax) to intensify its effect.” Attorney General DeWine said that deaths due to overdoses have now exceeded the number of accidental deaths from drugs and auto accidents.
After meeting with various coroners, DeWine said the “line has risen” when it comes to deaths in connection with heroin. Simpson said his office has had an overdose that resulted in death from what was believed to be heroin within the past three weeks. Simpson said that calls relating to heroin overdoses have become “the norm.”
With the drug, Narcan, though, can come unexpected consequences. “Because Narcan is becoming so prevalent now, there are doctors actually prescribing heroin addicts Narcan,” said DePew.
“It may prevent a death, but what we’re also seeing is Narcan is now being sold and dealt with the heroin.” DePew also said that this duet of drugs has taken away the fear from some users in that if they overdose, they believe there will be someone there who will save their life.
“This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away soon, we’re going to continue to deal with this,” said Simpson.
“Despite major efforts to fight the heroin epidemic on the state, local, and national level, the problem is not going to go away, and people are continuing to die… We have to fight this at the grassroots level- community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood. We have to get mad and say ‘enough is enough,’” DeWine said.
(Editor’s note: This is part of one of a two-part series on the heroin epidemic in Preble County, and the state. Next week, treatment and rehabilitation facts and more.)