Heroin scourge: The local view

As doctors make a conscious effort to step down opiate prescriptions, the heroin epidemic has been strengthening its grasp in Ohio and locally. Heroin overdose deaths in Ohio have increased tenfold in the past decade.

Just more than a decade ago, Ohio was averaging not even one heroin overdose death per county on an annual basis. There were 87 unintentional heroin overdose deaths in 2003, according to statistics from the Ohio Department of Health. When statistics are finalized for 2013, that number is expected to be more than 900, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Last year, Washington County had at least three.

Though it was not unheard of for local emergency responders to be called to heroin overdoses in the 1980s and 1990s, Washington County saw a spike in overdoses sometime around 2004, said Major Brian Schuck of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“In 2005 it was actually the inception of the task force after we had a lot of heroin incidences in 2004,” said Schuck.

Heroin was then and continues today to be the No. 1 drug being battled by the Washington Morgan Major Crimes Task Force, he said.

The number of heroin cases presented to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal investigation more than doubled between 2010 to 2013-from 2,182 to 4,908, according to statistics from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

And the demand for heroin is not going away, said Schuck.

“A lot of people turned from pills to heroin because heroin is so much cheaper. Now everyone is watching prescription medications more closely….You’re never going to see a decrease (in heroin use),” he said.

The availability of overdose antidotes has made it easier to save lives in recent years, said Marietta Fire Captain Jack Hansis.

“We’ve been using (Narcan) for years. If given soon enough it can reverse the effects (of an overdose),” he said.

But when it comes to overdoses, minutes matter. Hansis has seen overdoses result in deaths, and those tragedies do not easily fade from memory.

“I remember a couple of them that stand out. One, the individual still had the tourniquet around his arm. It had to have happened within less than a minute of him injecting himself…It was a day similar to today,” Hansis recalled.