Sheriff, detective talk about plague of heroin

Heroin and prescription drug abuse were hot topics Thursday evening at a North Central Ohio Conservatives meeting.

Seneca County Sheriff Bill Eckelberry and Detective Sgt. Don Joseph of the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office and the Seneca County Drug Task Force -METRICH Enforcement Unit were guest speakers at the meeting and they discussed the drug epidemic in the county.

“It’s not a problem that just started,” Eckelberry said. “The drug problem been going on for over 30 years. Now, the drug of choice has changed.”

Eckelberry said while the drug of choice used to be marijuana, law enforcement is seeing a recent increase in the use of prescription medication and heroin. He said the two drugs almost always are linked. As prescription medication abusers become more and more addicted, they often turn to heroin because it a cheaper alternative and readily available, he said.

“It doesn’t take much too much to get hooked,” he said. “It’s anybody and everybody that can get addicted.”

Joseph said opiate addiction has increased dramatically in the past 20 years, and now, on average, four people in Ohio die each day as a result of a drug overdose.

Joseph said $3.8 billion is spent each year on prescription medication, and while some users believe prescription drugs are safe alternatives to street drugs, they’re not.

“They can be just as potent and harmful as illicit drugs,” Joseph said.

Joseph said prescription pills also are now replacing marijuana as a gateway drug, especially locally.

“Once a supply of prescription opioids are cut off, abusers often move on to heroin since it is much cheaper. Its $20 for a day’s worth of hits versus up to $80 for prescription pills. Locally, it seems prescription pills do lead to heroin addition,” Joseph said.

Prescription opioids include Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, Oxycontin, Percocet, Dilaudid and fentanyl, and forms of heroin include a white powder form or black tar heroin, Joseph said.

There are several symptoms of opioid and heroin overdoses, and some of the symptoms of a heroin overdose include dry mouth, clammy skin, drowsiness and slowing of the respiratory system.

“That’s where we have a lot of overdoses,” Eckelberry said. “The respiratory system shuts down.”

To help combat the heroin and prescription drug epidemic, Joseph suggested parents talk to their children about prescription, over-the-counter and street drugs, and also take other steps such as locking up medications and properly disposing of expired and unused ones.

Eckelberry said drug take-back programs and the take-back boxes are an easy way to dispose of unused or expired drugs.

“It’s been a very worthwhile effort to get those boxes put in those locations,” Eckelberry said of the boxes located at law enforcement offices throughout the county.

Eckelberry said officials in the county also are discussing implementing a drug court. While drug dealers should get time in prison, abusers should get the help they need, Eckelberry said. Many times, users get out of jail and just continue to use drugs.

“We want to help people, not put them in prison,” Eckelberry said.

By going through a drug court, an offender would get a chance to go through an intensive recovery program and get the criminal charge off of their record.

“We’re always going to have users and abusers, and locking them up solves nothing,” Joseph said.