AG announces new state heroin unit

A decade ago, heroin was not a common drug in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

But supply and demand changed that. Increased prescriptions for opioid painkillers led to opioid addictions. The ever-dropping price of heroin made it a more economical source for that addiction. And then the epidemic hit, said Maj. Brian Schuck with the Washington-Morgan Major Crimes Task Force.

“We’ve been dealing with heroin since about 2005 as I recall. And it continues to rise in use every year,” said Schuck.

To help law enforcement combat the continually growing problem, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced earlier this month the formation of The Attorney General’s Heroin Unit.

Like a more singularly focused version of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Narcotics Unit, the Heroin Unit will be specially trained to aid state law enforcement with heroin cases, said Jill Del Greco, public information officer for the Attorney General’s Office.

“The initial plan is the unit will be law enforcement officers and special prosecutors to assist with drug cases. And then we will be bringing on more people that can go out into communities and come up with communication plans to educate communities,” said Del Greco.

A loose estimate determined it will cost $1 million to get the Heroin Unit up and running, she added. That money will come from the existing budget of the Attorney General’s Office, she said.

Earlier this year, DeWine tasked employees to find some hard statistics relating to heroin consumption over the years.

What they found was that heroin overdose deaths jumped 34 percent between 2010 and 2011 and then jumped another 73 percent between 2011 and 2012.

The statistics also show Ohio has over 600 heroin overdose deaths so far this year.

At least three of those were in Washington County. A 22-year-old woman overdosed in New Matamoras in March, and Macksburg saw heroin overdoses in March and April.

Schuck said the dedicated heroin unit could be a good resource because they will likely have a wide net of information.

“Information-sharing is the number one way we catch these things,” he said.

In late October, the MCTF worked with the Parkersburg Narcotics Task Force to arrest several suspected heroin dealers that were reportedly transporting massive quantities of the drug into the area from Chicago, said Schuck.

While the Major Crimes Task Force is well-trained and well-versed in the heroin trade, any extra manpower provided by the Attorney General’s Heroin Unit will be an asset in combating a problem with no end in sight.

“You arrest one person and another one comes and takes their place dealing,” Schuck said.

Aside from providing law enforcement, outreach will be a big facet of the heroin unit.

“Communities might not realize heroin is a problem there,” said Del Greco.

Dedicated drug abuse awareness specialists will be entering communities to educate them on the severity of the heroin problem in Ohio and inform people of available resources to combat usage and treat addiction, she said.