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Heroin use in village is evident

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There is heroin in Yellow Springs. It is being bought and sold and used. There were four incidents involving heroin in Yellow Springs in less than a month, including two overdoses and one fatality. Heroin’s presence in the village reflects a decade-long increase in heroin use state- and nationwide.

“There is a decent amount of heroin here,” said Yellow Springs Police Chief David Hale. “It’s hard to tell how big the iceberg is.”

Estimating how much heroin is in the village is difficult because different informants have given different accounts, Hale said. Some have downplayed its presence, saying it’s used only among those already using it, while others say it is much more widespread than might be imagined. However, the recent incidents in Yellow Springs were “an anomaly” because there weren’t any overdoses in the months before or since, Hale said. He also explained that there has not been the increase in petty crime that usually accompanies pandemics, and that most of the incidents over the last few weeks involved individuals with prior drug charges.

In either case, statewide statistics are startling: heroin use in Ohio has been on the rise since 2000, and there has been a 366 percent increase in drug-induced deaths from 2000–2012. There have been more deaths from drug overdoses than motor vehicle accidents in Ohio since 2007. Heroin accounts for almost 50 percent of overdose deaths, and the number of overdose deaths in Greene County resembles that of the much more populated Montgomery County, according to the US Department of Justice.

“There are a lot of places in Ohio using the term ‘epidemic,’” said Nathan Crago, director of the Hope Spot, a recovery facility in Xenia. “I can say for sure that there’s definitely an epidemic in the Miami Valley area. It’s everywhere, unfortunately.”

Heroin incidents in the village
Both Hale and Crago said that heroin use transcends race, class, and gender. People come to use it for different reasons, and anyone can find him or herself addicted. The incidents in Yellow Springs hint at the breadth of people affected:

On Thursday, May 26, a suspect fled from police when he was pursued for speeding on Xenia Avenue. The suspect, 33, led the police on a circuitous chase before returning to his house on South College St. and running inside, where he stayed for half an hour. Drug paraphernalia, cash, and a syringe were found inside the car. The officers prepared to tow the car but the suspect reemerged from the house, asking that it not be towed because it wasn’t his vehicle. He led officers inside where he admitted to doing heroin, and said he was on his way to purchase more when police pursued him. He was cited for numerous traffic violations, possession of drug paraphernalia, and failure to comply.

At 10:40 p.m. on Sunday, June 14, police were called to a home and told that the caller’s mother, 49, had overdosed on prescription medication she had taken recreationally. At least five other people were in the house. The mother was alternately unresponsive and spasming. According to the incident report, she admitted to snorting heroin the night before and had mixed alcohol with the drugs she had taken that night. Officers had to hold her down on the cot so the medics could take her vital signs, and she was then taken to the hospital.

Also on June 14, police went to the home of a man who said that his friend, 26, appeared to be having a heart attack. Police found that the man was having trouble breathing and was going in and out of consciousness. Once he regained consciousness, he told police it as his first time trying heroin. He and a friend were playing video games together when his friend pulled out syringes and told him he should try heroin. The victim said he didn’t want to, but his friend prepared a syringe anyway and allegedly shot him up against his will. He was taken to the hospital and released the next day.

On June 29, police accompanied the landlord of a male, 43, to his apartment. His landlord got worried after not seeing him for a few days and called the police. The incident report from the investigation says that as soon as the officer opened to door, he recognized the stench of decomposition. The victim had been dead for days, having overdosed sitting on his couch. A syringe, tourniquet, and charred spoon sat on the table in front of him. A stale pizza was on the counter.

Statewide increase in drug use
According to reports issued by the Ohio Department of Health, Greene County is an area particularly susceptible to illicit drug use. The amount of drug use in Greene County is higher than the state average, Chief Hale said, which likely means that Yellow Springs has a proportionally elevated amount.

The county has been labeled a High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) by the US Department of Justice, partly because of its proximity to Dayton. The city has been indentified as a ‘regional distribution center,’ especially for heroin.

“It’s got a lot to do with the intersections of Interstates 75 and 70 in Dayton. A lot of drugs are transported on both of those highways; they call it the Crossroads,” said Crago.

And Greene County has experienced an upswing in heroin use for the same reason the rest of the country has: heroin use has followed the increased availability of prescription medication. Data compiled by the Ohio Department of Health shows that 80 percent of heroin users come to the drug after developing an addiction to legal pain medications. The amount of opioids available in Ohio pharmacies has increased 643 percent since 1997, thanks in part to a demand engendered by the ‘aggressive marketing’ of pharmaceutical companies.

A doctor will prescribe an opioid such as Vicodin or OxyContin for an injury, and the patient will build up a tolerance that demands stronger and more frequent doses. And once the legal prescription window is closed, an addiction remains that desperately needs to be addressed. Of course, many users come to pills recreationally, but the addiction process works the same way.
“[Addicts] are physically dependent and sick without the drug. They’ll find heroin, and they’ll find themselves saying, ‘why do pills when you can do heroin? It’s twice as good and half the price,’” Crago said.

Narcan and the YSPD
Deaths from overdoses occur when the endorphin-like chemicals in the brain relax the user so much that the body essentially forgets to breathe. The unknown purity and composition of heroin means that its effects can be unpredictable, even among experienced users. There were almost 2,000 fatal unintentional drug overdoses in 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

With this in mind, the Yellow Springs Police Department has equipped itself with a product called Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose in minutes.

“It’s a sensible response,” said Hale, “because clearly we’re not immune to heroin use.”

Narcan prevents the brain’s opioid receptors from receiving the chemicals produced by heroin, prompting the body to start the withdrawal process. One of the most favorable aspects of Narcan is that it only addresses opioids — administering it to someone who is not on opioids will have no effect at all. In the incident on June 14 where the victim said he was shot up against his will, the responding officer administered Narcan, and the victim regained consciousness immediately and was able to tell the police what had happened.

Issues with treatment
However beneficial, Narcan doesn’t address the cause of heroin addiction. The myriad factors that contribute to addiction make it difficult to tackle, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Socioeconomic factors come into play, as the cost of treatment and health insurance determines who has access to treatment, to say nothing of the wait lists to get into treatment centers. Help is typically sought only when the situation is most desperate, and turning people away due to lack of space may prevent a person from seeking help in the future.

“It takes most people losing everything before they get help. People aren’t coming [to get help] who still have families, still have jobs, still have homes and want to do something about their problem. It takes hitting rock-bottom to seek out treatment,” said Crago.

Greene County has a few options available to people battling addiction. The Greene Leaf Therapeutic Community in Xenia is a six-month residential program for men and women who have been charged with drug-related offenses. The program offers therapy and classes to address the causes of drug addiction. Hale said that most people arrested for small-scale drug possession are given treatment in lieu of a jail sentence, as ‘personal use’ quantities bespeak problems that could benefit from therapy (vs. possession of large quantities, which is likely indicative of trafficking activities and in some cases warrants mandatory prison time).

The Hope Spot, also in Xenia, is a “sort of clubhouse” for support and community, said Amy Pulver, vice president of the Hope Spot. It is a safe space where people can come to distance themselves from environments that make recovery difficult. She mentioned that help can come in the form of something as simple as ordering pizzas and watching TV in the company of encouraging peers.

The Hope Spot also functions as an information hub to direct families of addicts to the resources available to them. The stigma of addiction can make it difficult for someone to seek help for themselves or someone in their family, especially in a more affluent area like Yellow Springs, she said. Pulver said that family members can inadvertently facilitate addiction by not educating themselves about how to help someone fight it.

“Recovery is not just about getting off of drugs — it’s about reworking behavior and overcoming the shame of addiction,” she said. “It’s a disease with a solution, not a cure.”


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