Portage County overdoses on the rise


Rachael Le Goubin

Aaron Marks speaks first-hand about the effects of prescription drug dependency and how it led to his own addiction to heroin at the 2013 Heroin Summit. The Summit was held at the InterContinental Hotel in Cleveland on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Photo by Rachael Le Goubin.

Chase Bonhotel

Making a trip to the gas station to fill your car’s empty tank is rather routine, and you don’t find yourself thinking twice about it. But to some, this routine trip is about fueling an addiction instead of their parents’ hand-me-down station wagon.

“I would find myself spending over $200 on gasoline to use as collateral to fuel my addiction to heroin,” said a 22-year-old recovering heroin addict undergoing rehab at Oriana House in Akron, who wished to remain anonymous. “When dealers would take a gallon of gas for 100 milligrams of China White (heroin), I knew I had hit rock bottom.”

The source said the downfall into heroin abuse is a process and usually starts with more innocent substances. A plethora of things lead into this addiction.

“You don’t just wake up, roll out of bed and say I’m going to do heroin today,” the source said. “You start with the classic gateway drug known as marijuana, which usually leads to the use of prescription pain killers and eventually when you don’t have $40 to spend you go cheaper, you turn to heroin.”

“That’s when you realize all your friends aren’t standing next to you anymore,” the source said, “whether it’s because they are in county (jail), in the hospital or dead.”

Federal prosecutors from the Northeast District of Ohio said heroin has become a major problem in the United States, especially within the northeast region of Ohio where heroin overdose fatalities are up about 400 percent in recent years. Since 2011, there have been 1,800 heroin- and opioid- related deaths in the state.

Stephen Evans of the Lorain County Coroner’s Office said one Ohioan dies every five hours from an opioid overdose, which is excessive compared with other areas of the United States. Lorain County saw a spike in heroin and opioid overdose related deaths, which ranged from 10 to 12 through 2009 to 60 in 2012.

A summit meeting was held at the InterContinental Hotel in Cleveland on Nov. 21 to address the growing epidemic. “Heroin: A Crisis Facing Our Entire Community” was sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic and examined heroin abuse from the perspectives of people within the fields of prevention, law enforcement, education, medical and treatment communities.

“This is not a crisis for some people, it’s a crisis for all people,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Greater Cleveland’s leading institutions are coming together to find solutions to this public health crisis.”

The summit strongly emphasized the problem cannot be solved through arresting addicts.

“Ladies and gentlemen, right now the United States spends more per capita on incarcerated adults than any country in the world,” said Joseph Pinjuh, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force unit chief at the U.S Attorney’s Office. “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem.”

The use of effective treatment plans is becoming a primary goal in solving this issue.

Dr. Christina Delos Reyes, chief clinical officer and member of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, said access to treatment needs to be improved. She said the U.S. does not have “treatment on demand for addiction,” and our country needs to place a greater emphasis on treating addicts.

The summit concluded with the development of community action plans, which outlined strategies and procedures to halt the epidemic. The potential plan consists of three parts: educate both kids and adults through social media; crack down on the dealers, not the addicts; and effectively prescribe pain medication without the overuse of prescription drugs.

As heroin continues to germinate in northeast Ohio, Kent State is on the front lines, fighting its own battle with this harrowing drug.

“Yes, the drug is very prevalent around this area and harming a lot of people,” said senior communication studies major Brandon Richards, who witnessed a heroin arrest at Tri-Towers in September. “People know nothing about it or where it’s actually coming from.”

Wayne Enders, administrator at the Portage County Coroner’s Office, said Portage County has seen a spike in heroin-overdose-related deaths, with seven in 2012 and 14 in 2013 so far as of statistics made available in November by the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

“The amount has significantly increased,” Enders said. “When we saw seven deaths in 2012, we thought that was a record, until this year. And from my understanding, there have been 603 heroin-related deaths in Ohio this year alone.”

Community Resource Officer Michquel Penn said the Kent State Police Department is monitoring the situation closely for any type of drug involvement on campus. The police department is working with on-campus organizations and residence services to give staff members a “heads-up of what to look out for” and information about recent drug trends. Penn said only one heroin-related arrest took place on campus this semester.

A Kent State aeronautics major who used to be a frequent heroin user and asked to remain anonymous said that heroin can be found on campus, but you have to know where to look. Its prevalence is increasing dramatically and the drug is being “cut,” or laced in dangerous ways.

“It’s not coming from the pot dealers, it’s coming from prescription-painkiller dealers,” the anonymous source said. “And what people fail to realize is that it’s not pure heroin, but dirty and laced with other pain killers. Dealers want to get more bang for their buck, so they lace it in hazardous ways to increase their revenue.”

John Staley, professor at Kent State’s College of Public Health, said the university needs to play a major role in working with its colleges, including the College of Public Health, the College of Nursing and even the DeWeese Health Center. It needs to put out educational information on a frequent basis and utilize social media to get the messages out there continuously and embed them in students’ conscious.

As the epidemic continues to grow, it hits home for a lot of students. Many are left heartbroken by the recent increase in heroin overdose related deaths.

“Drugs are stronger than people,” said Hilary Carrender, a sophomore theatre studies major who recently lost a former classmate to a heroin overdose.

“I hope law enforcement is doing everything they can to find and arrest the dealers,” Carrender said. “For those who know and care for someone who is using, don’t expect them to quit on their own. They won’t, and they can’t. Sometimes tough love is the best love.”

The drug that was once thought to be eradicated, or at least replaced by methamphetamine, is back and stronger than ever. Former addicts are hopeful that proper education and preventative measures by Kent State Police and the university will continue to hinder the outbreak on campus.

“Be safe, be smart and be aware,” the 22-year-old anonymous source said. “It’s out there, on campus and the surrounding areas. Don’t give in to the dealers’ demise and remember your roots. Think back to why you’re at that excellent school (Kent State) in the first place, and remember to make something of yourself without the use of drugs.”

Contact Chase Bonhotel at [email protected].