Heroin use increasing in Portage County

Justine Stump

There has been a shift in drug use in Northeast Ohio recently. Heroin seizures and arrests have tripled from that of just a few years ago.

Wayne Enders, administrator at the Portage County Coroner’s Office, said there have been four heroin overdose deaths in 2012. In 2011, there was only one heroin overdose death.

This is consistent with what local Portage County and regional law enforcement agencies think about the growing heroin epidemic.

An undercover member of the Portage County Drug Task Force said he has seen an increase in overdoses due to heroin in the past months.

“It’s very obvious that heroin is on the rise again; it’s being more heavily used than other drugs right now,” the task force member said.

According to this year’s Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force Great Lakes Strategic Plan, “heroin has emerged as the greatest drug threat in the Great Lakes Region as heroin availability, rates of abuse and related crime are increasing. The availability of heroin has increased over the past several years, and in 2011 heroin surpassed cocaine as the greatest drug threat in the Great Lakes Region.”

In another section, the report stated: “In 2007 only 42 percent of the state and local law enforcement agencies reported high or moderate availability of heroin; by 2011, more than 62 percent of respondents were indicating that availability is high or moderate — compared with 50 percent nationally.”

This data is consistent with anecdotal reports of high or increasing heroin availability by law enforcement officials in every state in the region.

Capt. David Rarrick of the Ravenna Police Department said he has “definitely seen an increase” in heroin-related incidents covered by his departments.

Rarrick said there’s the concern for the safety of the people using [heroin] as well as it leading to more crimes.

“People don’t always know what they’re getting. It can lead to more overdoses,” he said.

He said police do what they can to regulate drug trafficking, but the task force of undercover agents can get closer to the people at the source.

“It’s more difficult, but it’s effective. Times aren’t easy, being proactive is the best way of dealing with drug problems,” Rarrick said.

The member of the Portage County Drug Task Force said popularity in drugs might change but they don’t go away.

“We just try and get all the dealers off the streets that we can,” he said.

Kent City Police Lt. James Prusha said he couldn’t confirm or deny that heroin is becoming an increasing problem.

He said there was no way to search for a specific drug in the Kent Police Department’s records, but he didn’t need to look at records to tell that use of a narcotic can directly relate to an increase in crime rates.

“A huge majority of people that get in trouble with the law are under the influence of something,” Prusha said.

Contact Justine Stump at j[email protected].