ELYRIA — Heroin, an epidemic that has been spreading across the country, seems to have had a devastating effect on Lorain County, so much so that it’s caught the attention of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“(Lorain County) is a county that’s been hit hard but also a county that’s been fighting back,” DeWine said Monday.
DeWine held one in a series of state-wide panels at Lorain County Community College to address the growing problem of heroin addiction here and in Ohio.
Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera, President of Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Tom Stuber and Lorain County Domestic Relations Judge Debra Boros, discussed a newer approach to stopping heroin addiction — prevention.
“We have to dedicate money to prevention,” Stuber said, adding that it was impossible to expect change to come solely through reactionary efforts like arresting and treating drug users. “(Heroin addiction) has surpassed the instinct to live.”
Boros, who has worked with heroin-addicted parents and teenagers agreed with Stuber.
“We just don’t have the detox facilities for youth,” Boros said. The focus needs to be on preventing drug use in teenagers who are susceptible to peer pressure in school and home, she said.
“Homes are sometimes their triggers,” Boros said. Many teenagers who start using drugs, begin by using with their school friends, going through their medicine cabinets or even being influenced by their own parents’ addictions.
“Some adults are so addicted, they’re choosing drugs over their kids,” Boros said.
Rivera has worked in the department since the 1970s but said he has never seen so many cases of heroin addiction and overdoses as he’s seen in recent years.
It was 2005 that Rivera first remembers an influx of heroin addiction in Lorain. Initially, police tried to arrest individual drug dealers and users in hopes of stopping heroin sales. When that wasn’t effective, they targeted gangs and neighborhoods around Lorain, Rivera said. A series of arrests of gang members in 2008 put a dent in the number of heroin dealers in the city, but it was a far cry from putting a stop to the problem for good.
As recently as last fall, rashes of opiate overdoses have plagued the county. One week in November, more than 20 people overdosed on fentanyl — a particularly powerful opiate — and heroin.
Police were able to revive all but two of the overdose victims with Narcan.
Narcan is a synthetic narcotic that revives people suffering from opiate overdoses. In 2012, Lorain County became the first county in Ohio that allowed all emergency responders, including police, to carry Narcan.
Despite the action that Lorain County is taking to fight back against heroin addiction, Rob Brandt, whose son died of an overdose in 2011, said real change needs to start with individual people and prevention.
“It’s not police … it’s not schools. It’s us,” Brandt said, adding that if people educate themselves and their children on heroin addiction, they are making the first step towards keeping the drug from entering their lives.