When Blanchester’s police chief took his first job as a cop in 1983, the guys retiring then who worked in the 1960s told the young officer about a terrible drug they used to deal with regularly called heroin.
“They said, ‘Thank God it’s gone,’” recalled Chief Scott Reinbolt. “Now, we’re right back where we were.”
Heroin has surged in recent years across the nation, including Clinton County. Reinbolt estimates heroin makes up at least 50 to 75 percent of the drug calls his department responds to, up from about 20 percent five years ago.
“It’s big,” he said. “And it’s across the board. It’s everybody.”
Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo. It’s made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin also can be smoked or snorted up the nose. All of these ways of taking heroin send it to the brain quickly, which makes it extremely addictive.
When Sgt. Doug Eastes started with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office 14 years ago, cocaine was popular. Then, methamphetamine came and made cocaine seem tame.
“Next thing we know, here’s heroin; and it’s even more addictive and destructive,” Eastes said. “I’m just waiting to see what’s next.”
While heroin is being used throughout the county, Wilmington remains a hot spot, said Eastes, who investigates CCSO drug cases under the supervision of Maj. Brett Prickett. Meth is more popular in the southern portions of the county.
Heroin users are typically in their late teens to 40 age group, both sexes, all races and low to mid-income.
“It’s cheap and it’s easy to get,” Eastes said. “Well, it starts off cheap until you need more.”
That’s why when there are drugs, there is crime, officials say. Every theft in the county is related to drugs, Eastes said, and at least 80 percent of all crime comes back to a drug source. Last year, four different groups of people — all heroin addicts from outside the county — committed a string of thefts. The stolen property was sold for cash at pawn shops.
He estimates 10 to 15 percent of residents are involved with drugs.
“Almost everyone we arrest has track marks, a long history of drug arrests or has drugs on them,” Eastes said. “It’s an epidemic for sure.”
With the increase of drug use comes more health risks. In 2012, nine people died from a drug overdose in the county. For comparison, county records tracing back to 1988 show one to five deaths each previous year, according to the Clinton County Health Department. It’s unknown how many of the overdoses were from heroin use, specifically.
A new challenge for both users and health officials: An increased risk of hepatitis C, which can be contracted by sharing syringes and can survive for days or weeks on the end of a needle.
In Clinton County, the disease has increased, dramatically in the age category of 25 to 34. In 2003, four cases were reported in the age group. The number jumped to 27 cases in 2012.
“In my public health career, [heroin] is the biggest epidemic I have dealt with — this is bigger to me than the H1n1 epidemic,” said Pamela Walker-Bauer, Clinton County’s health commissioner. “I’m not sure if the community completely understands how big the crisis is. I think there is some denial — we have to talk about it.”
While experts know how to handle alcohol and cocaine addictions, the heroin epidemic is something that has taxed the substance abuse system, said Dr. Jill Gomez, substance abuse director for Mental Health Recovery Services of Warren & Clinton Counties. Without medication-assisted therapy, data suggests fewer than 10 percent of addicts are able to stop using.
“It’s a complex brain disorder. Our brain tries to increase pleasure and avoid pain, and that’s exactly what opiates and heroin do,” she said.
Heroin users are often younger, and therefore do not have investments in life such as a house, children or job that will encourage rehabilitation.
“It’s difficult because you have a 20 year old who doesn’t have much to live for except get high,” Gomez said.
One treatment showing promise is Vivitrol, a monthly intramuscular injection that blocks the brain’s ability to get high or drunk. So, should a heroin addict shoot up, he or she will feel nothing.
The key is making sure the addict stays on track, instead of making another bad choice. Officials agree heroin users are not “bad people.”
“There is a small amount of bad people that just do bad things,” Sgt. Eastes said. “Mostly people are good people, but they make bad decisions, and poor decisions breed what we deal with.”
Andrea Chaffin may be reached at 937-382-2574 or on Twitter @andeewrites.