UPDATE: Ohio AG Calls Heroin a Statewide Epidemic; Offers Help to Communities

By: Olivia Fecteau & The Associated Press Email
By: Olivia Fecteau & The Associated Press Email

Dealing with the Problem in Smaller Communities

VINTON COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) – In smaller communities, where there are typically fewer resources available, the Attorney General’s Office says it hopes to help law enforcement and investigators deal with heroin problems through this new unit.

Chief Tony Wood of the McArthur Police department tells WSAZ.com that heroin is an issue in McArthur, but meth has become an even bigger problem because it is cheaper and easy to make.

In Vinton County, Wood said, there is not a long-term drug rehabilitation program for people convicted of drug offenses. Instead, drug offenders are often funded with federal money to attend treatment facilities in other cities, such as Dayton, Columbus or Portsmouth.

UPDATE 11/18/13 @ 7:55 p.m.
SCIOTO COUNTY, Ohio (WSAZ) – With a crackdown on prescription pills, heroin use in Ohio is a growing trend that has many people concerned – including Ohio’s Attorney General, who announced the formation of a new heroin unit Monday in Columbus.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said the heroin unit will give support and resources to help communities handle what has been described as a heroin epidemic.

“The attorney general can't solve this problem. The DEA can't solve this problem. The FBI can't solve this problem. Local police, local coroners cannot solve this problem alone,” DeWine said. “Heroin is a community problem, and it will take a community effort.”

That is evident in Scioto County, which has been called a model for both the heroin problem and the solution.

“It’s not just a law enforcement problem. Drug use is a crime, but the addiction is an illness,” Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware said. “If you're attacking one without the other, you're not going to be successful in rooting out the problem.”

This year, Ware’s department paid its officers overtime with federal grant money to crack down on heroin, cocaine and pills. Ware said he hopes the new unit will provide more investigative resources and financial help.

“We've shown what you can do when you have the ability to put those extra resources out there,” Ware said.

Heidi Riggs and her family know the effects of heroin. Riggs’ daughter Marin, 20, died from a heroin overdose in January 2012.

“Our son found her on the bathroom floor. But this time we couldn't save her,” Riggs said at the Attorney General’s press conference on Monday. “It's not something that only happens to kids whose parents are uninvolved in their lives. It doesn't only happen to low-income families, and it isn't something one can assume will resolve quickly.”

Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn said he hopes more money will be provided to law enforcement to crack down on drug trafficking, but he said he would also like to see the state reinstate tougher penalties for drug traffickers. About eight years ago, Kuhn said, drug traffickers were sentenced to a mandatory 10 years, with one to 10 additional years at the judge’s discretion. Now, the additional years are no longer an option.

Numbers from the Scioto County Coroner show that there were 15 deaths in the county in 2012 from drug use directly. Three of those were from heroin alone; two were from heroin and another drug. In addition to those 15 deaths, another 13 are categorized as drug-related deaths. Those include situations such as a person accidentally killing himself or dying in a drug-related car crash.

“If you count all the indirect heroin deaths statewide, heroin's deadly influence may actually double,” DeWine said. He noted that in 2012, there were more than 600 heroin overdose deaths in the state of Ohio.

DeWine added, “Nobody starts on heroin. They start with something else. We've worked very hard over the last few years to close that gateway.”

UPDATE 11/18/13 @ 12:10 p.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSAZ) -- "There is a heroin epidemic in Ohio." That is word from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday in announcing what he calls disturbing new figures about the use of heroin in the state.

DeWine says that data, gathered from coroners across the state, shows that the use of heroin has increased dramatically over the last four years. "We know that, at minimum, 606 families across this state were directly impacted in 2012 by a heroin death."

DeWine says there are at least 11 people per week dying because of heroin.

During a press conference in Columbus Monday morning, the Attorney General discussed the issue and announced a new effort his office is taking to assist law enforcement agencies, community leaders, and residents in this fight.

"Communities have to wake up. If you don't think you have a problem, you are probably wrong," said DeWine. "Local law enforcement understands the problem." He also says residents who don't understand the problem are "frankly in denial."

DeWine says heroin is in every part of the state and is coming from the Mexican drug cartel.

The Ohio Highway Patrol reports that there were twice as many heroin busts in 2012, compared to 2011. And from January through August of 2013, they recovered more heroin than all of 2012.

The Attorney General's Heroin Unit, which will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, will assist in combating issues associated with the heroin epidemic, such as crime, addiction, and overdose deaths.

The decision to create the specialized unit was made after new data gathered by the Attorney General's Office in the past month revealed a 107-percent increase in heroin deaths among more than half of Ohio's counties.

The data was collected from 47 Ohio coroner's offices with complete heroin overdose data for 2010, 2011, and 2012.

When talking to county coroners about the issue, DeWine says they are hearing similar input across the state. In Gallia County, the coroner said it was "remarkable how quickly it has come in." In Jackson County, the coroner said "heroin is going up, up, up."

The results are as follows:
2010: 292 heroin overdose deaths
2011: 395 heroin overdose deaths
2012: 606 heroin overdose deaths

The reporting counties with the largest number of heroin overdoses in 2012 include:
Cuyahoga County: 161
Franklin County: 73
Hamilton County: 54
Montgomery County: 93

"Heroin deaths in Montgomery County so far in 2013 are up to 92, nearly the number for the entire 2012 year," said Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger.

DeWine said in Scioto County, the coroner's office keeps track of direct heroin related deaths and indirect heroin related deaths. The indirect deaths include things like someone on heroin dying in a car crash or a heroin user getting killed by their drug dealer. DeWine says there were 15 direct heroin deaths last year, and 13 indirect deaths.

He said if every county tallied direct and indirect deaths, the total number may actually double.

The parents of 20-year-old Marin Riggs, of Upper Arlington, said heroin is the definition of heartbreak for them.

"Marin was 20 and headed to college to become an ultrasound technician," said Heidi Riggs. "Her smile, which lit up the room, was extinguished by her heroin addiction, which lured her back after six months of sobriety. We hope to encourage other parents to talk to their kids and know that heroin is readily available in every suburb of every city in every state for about $10."

DeWine said one school resource officer he spoke with told him heroin was easier for children to access than beer.

During the press conference, DeWine said that prescription pills lead to heroin use. He said, "Nobody starts on heroin."

DeWine says he hopes that the work they have done the past few years to eradicate the pill problem, will have an impact on this problem.

He says Scioto County has been a poster child for problems, including prescription drugs. He also says the county is a poster child for how a community has rallied together to deal with the problem.

A community forum, hosted by the AG's Office, was held in Portsmouth last month.

The second meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Toledo.

DeWine says fighting this problem needs to be a community effort. He says his office, along with law enforcement, can't do it all. But he says they can help.

With the new task force, they will give communities the tools they haven't had, but need. They will help them apply for grants, bring in people to educate students, and will have a contact list to give investigators tips on heroin users, and for residents to check out legislation is being worked on.

Click the link to check out the contact list.

UPDATE 11/18/13 @ 11:15 a.m.
CINCINNATI (AP) - Ohio's attorney general says heroin abuse has become a statewide epidemic.

Attorney General Mike DeWine called a news conference Monday in Columbus with parents of a heroin overdose victim and a county coroner.

DeWine says state statistics compiled by his office from coroners are incomplete but show hundreds of heroin-related deaths this year, with numbers continuing to rise.

DeWine says there is a heroin problem in every part of the state. He says communities that don't think they have a problem are probably in denial. He urges grassroots, community-based efforts against heroin.

Amid crackdowns on prescription drug abuse in the state, heroin use has jumped as cheap, potent versions have swept into Ohio.

ORIGINAL STORY 11/18/13 @ 9:55 a.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's attorney general plans a new initiative against the spread of heroin across the state.

Mike DeWine has scheduled a news conference Monday in Columbus with the coroner from Montgomery County in southwest Ohio and the parents of a heroin overdose victim.

DeWine says state statistics compiled by his office show the continuing rise in heroin overdose deaths.

Amid crackdowns on prescription drug abuse in the state, heroin use has jumped as cheap, potent versions have swept into Ohio.

Click the link to watch the press conference live.

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