Heroin, drug abuse topic of attorney general forum

Heroin in Ohio is ”about as easy to get as pizza,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is trying to get in front of the the killer drug, in part, by crossing the state to speak with people about their drug abuse concerns.

On Thursday, DeWine led a group of police officers, medical professionals and social service workers in the seventh of his Drug Abuse Community Forums, this one in Warren.

The drug is being blamed on causing at least 900 deaths directly in Ohio in 2013 and at least that many in indirect deaths.

”Heroin is cheap, it’s plentiful, it’s everywhere in Ohio,” DeWine said at the Tribune Chronicle before the event at First United Methodist Church.

The drug is no longer in just Ohio’s larger cities, like Cleveland, but ”it’s in every little county, every rural county, through Appalachian Ohio, it’s used everywhere.”

The office has put together a heroin-specific unit, announced in November, it’s target is ”trying to get some specialized assistance to local law enforcement that local law enforcement can’t get anyplace else,” DeWine said.

But, ”frankly, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” DeWine said. ”It’s a demand problem and we’ve got to deal with the demand” by encouraging citizens to create ”grassroots” groups focused on prevention and education.

At the conclusion of this series of meetings, a committee will be formed to review the findings of the forums and submit recommendations to stop drug abuse and prevention in Ohio. Previous meetings have been held in Toledo, Akron, Mansfield, Zanesville and Springfield.

April Caraway, director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said the stigma attached to drug abuse halts progress against the epidemic.

”People are afraid to get help, people are embarrassed,” Caraway said. ”They don’t want their friends and family to know that someone in their family has a problem and so they keep it to themselves almost until it’s too late.”

And when people do try to find help, she said, they can’t get it immediately. Although the board provides money for services like detoxification, residential and outpatient programs, there’s still a four to six week waiting list in some cases.

”We don’t have enough beds to put people in and we don’t have enough places to detox people,” Caraway said.

Some of what’s being done already include provided jail inmates services to link them to treatment when they are released and operating a single contact for residents in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties, which is 211.

Elena Rossi, associate chair of pediatrics for Akron Children’s Hospital, said the hospital neonatal intensive care unit in the Mahoning Valley and its special care nursery are faced with two to eight babies a day who are withdrawing from maternal drug abuse, some worse than others.

Since 2007, she said, ”each year the number of babies who are withdrawing from illicit drugs and prescription drugs have escalated.”

Other officials at the event were Orman Hall, on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team; Eric Merkel, Warren police chief; Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner; Jeff Orr, captain in the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office; and Amy Frederick, an intervention specialist at LaBrae High School who has experienced drug abuse with a child.