Heroin overdoses rise in 2012 as the Drug Task Force continues to combat the issue




Lance Lysowski

The deadly consequences of heroin abuse reached Portage County in 2012.

There were seven confirmed deaths as the result of a heroin overdose last year, while two possible cases are still under investigation, according to Wayne Enders, Deputy Director of the Portage County Coroner’s Office.

The deaths come after only three by heroin overdose in 2010 and one in 2011.

Enders said the spike in deaths is the result of dealers selling low quantities of the drug for $10-15 and using deadly chemicals to cut their product.

“You don’t know what it has been mixed with and you don’t know the strength of the drug when you bought it on the street,” Enders said.

While heroin is more prevalent in other areas of the county, Kent has seen minimal traces of the drug. Lt. Jim Prusha of the Kent Police Department said arrests for heroin possession have been minimal, and while they have not found the drug during arrests, people have admitted to committing crimes to feed their addiction.

“People are willing to go through extreme risks to get their hands on some more heroin,” Prusha said. “We’ll see people doing thefts and things like that in order to get more. It’s definitely a concern of ours.”

Townhall II Inc., an outpatient facility in downtown Kent that provides services for substance abuse, primarily serves residents of Portage County. Rob Young, clinical services director at the facility, said there has been a 16 percent increase over the last two years in patients who identify heroin or opiates as their drug of choice.

Heroin, an opiate drug that can be injected, snorted or smoked, gives its user a sense of euphoria, accompanied by dry mouth, flushing of the skin and clouded mental functioning. Addiction to the drug does not take long and users become dependent on it very quickly.

Larry Limbert, administrator for the Portage County Drug Task Force, said the death toll over the past 18 months has made the drug a top priority for law enforcement.

“We’ve got a lot of people dying from heroin,” Limbert said. “We’ve probably seen more deaths in the last year and a half than we’ve seen for a long time.”

According to Limbert, the task force targeted heroin and methamphetamine during 2012, making 131 drug arrests during a four month campaign, including serving 35 arrest warrants across the county on Nov. 2 alone.

With the assistance of several local, state and federal agencies, the task force charged defendants with more than 90 narcotic charges. They also made 17 arrests for trafficking of heroin and 13 for possession of the opiate in 2012, seizing 150 grams in the process. Limbert said operations will increase in the coming year to combat the narcotic’s distribution.

“We are going to continue to gather intelligence information,” Limbert said. “We are going to continue to make drug buys, we’re going to continue to execute search warrants and we’re going to continue to make arrests. Heroin is on the top priority. We’re looking strongly at it.”

In prior years, alcohol was the first drug of choice for the majority of patients, followed by either marijuana or cocaine. Heroin and fellow opiates, including prescription drugs morphine and codeine, fell much lower on the list. Over the last two years, heroin or opiates have surpassed both marijuana and cocaine as the second most common drug that patients identify as their drug of choice.

Young said patients look to the drug as a replacement for prescription opioids, but the most troubling aspect is the withdrawal patients endure.

“You develop a physical addiction to the opiate fairly quickly and I think most individuals who develop an addiction to opiates or heroin would tell you, ‘I would love to quit, I would quit right now,’” Young said. “But the withdrawal symptoms are just so incredibly bad.”

Heroin users can experience symptoms of withdrawal within a few hours after last taking the drug. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services described the possible symptoms following heroin use as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes and involuntary kicking movements.

“I’ve had people describe it as ‘imagine the worst flu you’ve had and multiply it by 50 or 100,’” Young said. “That just becomes so overwhelming that they just have to use [the drug] to quit throwing up or whatever the case may be.”

The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services released an annual report in June of 2012, which surveyed the Drug Abuse Trends in the Akron/Canton Region that consists of Portage County.

The report stated heroin is more readily available in the area than cocaine, and the amount had increased over the previous six months. It also notes heroin crosses all demographics and has no sub-culture.

With the drug having the ability to affect anyone, officials at Kent State are closely monitoring the situation. Michquel Penn, Community Resource Officer for Kent State Police Department, said the university promotes drug awareness to resident hall employees and is actively communicating with the task force.

There has not been a report of heroin abuse or use on Kent State’s main campus for the last two years, but Penn is not dismissing the drug’s possible existence in the area.

“That does not mean our population here is immune because we haven’t had a report,” Penn said. “Being law enforcement officials in the first place, here on campus, we can’t be blind to what’s going on around us and the effects of heroin use itself.”

The cost of heroin is not limited to its users.

The drug is commonly at the root of crimes committed in Portage County. Between increased law enforcement, uninsured hospitalizations and incarcerations, local taxpayers are footing the bill.

“When someone becomes addicted to heroin, the likelihood they are going to commit other crimes rises and society pays for that,” Prusha said. “There’s a big cost in that.”

Heron Overdoses in Portage County since 2010

2010: 3

2011: 1

2012: 7, with 2 cases still under investigation

2012 arrest totals for Portage County by drug


15 for trafficking cocaine

5 for possession of cocaine


17 for trafficking in heroin

13 for possession of heroin


16 for trafficking marijuana

21 for possession of marijuana


39 for trafficking

22 for possession

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].