Heroin has tightened its grip on Southwest Ohio creating a surge in overdose deaths and doubling seizures of the drug during the past year. Criminal heroin indictments also are rising.
Authorities say Dayton is a heroin hub featuring cheap prices and a meeting place for dealers to distribute the drug to suburbs and smaller towns. The greater Dayton region has seen at least 281 people die from heroin-involved overdoses in less than five years.
“We see it a lot more than we used to,” said Miami Twp. police Det. Michael Siney, adding that ‘caps’ can be as cheap as $5 to $10. “You used to see the marijuana and the occasional crack and pills and stuff like that, but now it’s heroin, heroin, heroin, heroin.”w
Numbers tell part of the story.
- The Ohio State Highway Patrol seized 34,953 grams of heroin in 2012, more than double the 16,511 grams seized in 2011 and 4.5 times more than the 2009 total of 7,780. In January of 2013, 5,514 grams were seized, more than an 8,000 percent increase from January 2012.
- The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office said the number of indicted heroin cases jumped from 306 in 2010 to 356 in 2011 to 412 in 2012.
- The number of drug overdose deaths involving heroin seen by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office shows the increasing toll of those who paid the ultimate price for their addiction. Heroin-related deaths in the multi-county area have risen from 50 in 2011 to 92 in 11 months of 2012, with December’s numbers yet to be calculated.
“When we can go from 50 (dead) in 2011 to close to 100 in 2012,” Montgomery County Coroner Ken Betz said. “I think that clearly indicates what an epidemic heroin is in our community.”
An anonymous participant in the latest Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network report on the Dayton region takes it a step further: “It’s more than an epidemic. It’s a plague. It’s eating away at people.”
NO QUALITY CONTROL
The Dayton report released in June 2012 indicates heroin availability is a 10 on a scale of 0 to 10 while quality can be as high as an 8. But sometimes, the quality is low, and the inconsistency can lead to death.
“Some is like zero purity, some of overdoses are related to too high of purity. It really is pretty much all over the board,” said Miamisburg police Chief John Sedlak, who added that heroin was booked into his evidence room eight times in 2009 but 51 times in 2011. “They’ll usually cut it with any damn thing they can cut it with. Sometimes it’s stuff that won’t essentially hurt you on a single dose and other times it could kill you.”
The Substance Abuse report said the brown powder heroin popular in this region can be cut with baby formula, bouillon cubes, coffee, dog food, green tea tablets, Ramen noodle flavor packets and vitamins, which lowers the purity and thus the danger.
Betz said his office finds people who died of overdoses — two-thirds of whom are male, with a 7-to-1 ratio of whites to blacks — did so nearly instantly after injecting higher-quality heroin.
“When the needle is still there and the paraphernalia is still there and the cooking spoon is still there …” Betz said. “The purity of heroin has been excellent, in a sense, high quality on these overdoses.”
A participant in the Substance Abuse report added: “You never hear of an old heroin addict. They’re either dead, in prison, or quit.”
The Ohio State Highway Patrol has made seizing drugs a higher priority the past couple years. Lt. Anne Ralston said that included enforcement aimed at so-called ‘pill-mills’ that push opiate-based prescription medications. Overall patrol drug arrests were up 24 percent in 2012 from 2011. In the first month of January 2013, the patrol has seized 148 percent more opiate-based prescription pills than in January 2012 (9,000 dosage units compared to 3,629).
As more pills get seized, some users turn to heroin, which is cheaper and can provide a similar experience.
“Heroin is opium,” Ralston said. “People who are addicted to prescription pain killers – the Oxycontins, the Oxycodones – those are opiate-based prescription medications and we have a problem with pills here in Ohio as well and have taken steps to crack down on that.”
In the OSHP’s Piqua district — Montgomery, Preble, Greene, Clark and other counties north of Dayton, there was a 531 percent increase in heroin seizures in 2012 from 2011. In the Wilmington district — Warren, Butler, Clinton and other counties south of Dayton, there was a 7,217 percent increase in heroin seizures in 2012 from 2011.
“That opiate addiction is so strong that if they can’t get the pills, then they’re going to go to the heroin,” said Ralston, who admits the patrol likely is only catching a small percentage of drugs. “It’s an ongoing battle on many fronts.”
Montgomery County Prosecutor Mat Heck Jr. reported that in the past five years the number of convictions for heroin has grown by 40 percent.
“With the steady rise in prescription drug abuse, we have also seen a corresponding rise in the use of heroin, due to its cheaper street price and availability,” Heck said. “We see the devastating effects of heroin use, from ruined lives to overdose deaths. Heroin remains a growing problem in our community.”
Sedlak said Miamisburg police can tell when known drug-related criminals are incarcerated or out since crime fluctuates. “It’s considerable because when you’re fighting the heroin thing, you’re not just fighting pushers coming into your area and resellers and users,” Sedlak said. “You’re fighting a lot of crime that is completely associated with it.”
Siney said Miami Twp. police see the same thing.
“A lot of the heroin addicts are the ones coming over and stealing in the mall, stealing at Walmart, Target and retail (stores) to make money to get their fix,” Siney said. “A lot of them we stop with needles on them,” he said, adding that needles have become the No. 1 criminal drug possession tool.
One anonymous user from the Ohio Substance Abuse Monitoring Network document said free “testers” of heroin are so prevalent that “you can’t even really drive through Dayton and sit at a (traffic) light without somebody going, ‘Testers. Tester. We got free testers.’ Throwing them in your car, like here, ‘Just get high and come to me.’ ”
“I mean it’s right there. Even if you weren’t a heroin addict, you know what I mean, you’re gonna want to do it because it’s free, and it’s just right in your face.”
Dayton police Lt. Joe Wiesman said heroin has become “the drug of choice” in Dayton and that police haven’t seen the free testers, but he would not be surprised.
“I’m sure that that probably does happen, just like Sam’s Club gives out samples,” Wiesman said. “It’s one of those things that they could give you a little to get you to come back and buy a lot, to them it’s just smart business.”
In Greene County, ACE Task Force Commander Bruce May said heroin houses have popped up in the past few years and that heroin has climbed the list of illicit drug users, with heroin and pills gaining on marijuana and crack cocaine.
The high availability makes it hard for probationers to turn it down, according to Greene County Adult Probation Director Melissa Litteral. “Heroin is a huge problem right now,” said Litteral, noting that 208 people in her probation program tested positive for heroin in 2012. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 11 of 2013, another 25 Greene County probationers tested positive for heroin.
“We have to get these people help,” Siney said. “I’ve dealt with it in my family. It’s hard, even when you seek it out, to get somebody help.”
Dayton heroin treatment clinics
- Location: 1800 N. James H. McGee Blvd.
- Includes treatment for heroin addiction
The Crosspoints methadone clinic
- Location: 732 S. Ludlow Street
- This is on hold after Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 303 into law. The bill prevents such clinics within 500 feet of a school. Chaminade Julienne High School is within that area.
The Veterans Administration operates a federally regulated methadone program
- Location: VA Hospital campus on West Third Street