Within the past few months, heroin abuse and trafficking has increased significantly in Seneca County.
Chuck Boyer, unit coordinator of the Seneca County Drug Task Force-METRICH Drug Enforcement Unit, said METRICH currently has three open investigations involving heroin, and is continuing to battle the drug that is affecting every socio-economic class.
One woman from Tiffin fighting the addiction said heroin use is gaining popularity in the area and is becoming readily available.
"Stuff's going around here like water. It's bad," she said. "It's all over the place."
Now clean and wanting to move on with her life, she said if she wouldn't have quit using, she likely would have died.
"At the rate I was going, I was going to kill myself," she said. "I want to be remembered as a good person, not some junkie."
Twenty-five-year-old Jackie itches her arms where she once injected heroin.
Explaining the devastating effects it had on her body and mind, Jackie said she started using heroin in June and recently quit after a tough and lengthy battle.
"I tried it because I was in a desperate moment and wanted to feel different," she said.
An alcohol and drug addict since a young teenager, Jackie said she quickly became addicted to heroin and used the drug whenever she could.
"It was an obsession and a compulsion, and I ran with it," she said. "I used as much as I could."
Describing the effects of heroin as an initial rush and then a relaxing, mellow feeling, Jackie said if she would use heroin, she would do so intravenously.
"It's a rush, because you feel it go through your veins," she said. "It made me feel different instantly. I loved it. It made me feel like I weighed 1,000 pounds."
The high would last for hours, Jackie said, but because heroin was fairly inexpensive and easy to find in Tiffin, she would begin looking for more as soon as the high was gone.
"I wanted more when the high was over," she said. "If I didn't have the money, I would find a way to make the money. I'd sell something I had, or empty savings, or bum money off of someone. I would (hang out) with people, rip people off."
Jackie said when she was using, she couldn't hold a job, and without money, she always would depend on a male enabler.
"Addiction really sucks. It takes over everything; it revolves around how I'm going to get high today. As an active addict, it's full of chaos and chasing. ... Using other people, lying constantly to people that love me," she said. "I would just be high all the time when I was with them (enablers). When I was high like that, I couldn't take care of myself. ... Eventually everything falls apart."
Withdrawal from heroin played into that feeling, as symptoms Jackie experienced were so bad she could barely walk.
"It's like a severe flu with severe insomnia," she explained. "I could hardly move."
Symptoms she experienced ranged from body aches to chills, she said, but were not quite as bad as withdrawal symptoms other heroin addicts face.
"You'll never die from heroin withdrawal. ... You'll wanna die, but you won't die," she said. "Heroin is very addictive. I've never been on a drug before where your body is addicted, too. Your body becomes dependent on it to live; your body hurts for it. It's your own prison. It's hell on Earth."
She said heroin addicts would tell her she'd be OK and could avoid withdrawal symptoms as long as she didn't do heroin every day, but Jackie said she wondered, "How about I just don't do it at all?"
Jackie has been clean since Dec. 9, she said, but still is experiencing some symptoms of withdrawal.
"I've been still going through withdrawals," she said. "I'm sweating. I feel like there's crawling under my skin. People don't think about that when they get high."
Hopeful rehab in the near future will treat her addiction, Jackie said she wants people to know addiction is a disease and can happen to anyone.
"It doesn't matter how old you are, who you are, what you do, addiction will grab you and keep you as long as you let it," she said. "It's hard to explain addiction because it varies. ... All I know is that it's powerful and baffling. It's suicide in an installment plan. ... You have to stop somehow, and I'd rather be living and stopping than dead."
Jackie said because she has dealt with drug and alcohol addiction for more than 10 years, she's ready to stay away from more than just heroin.
"Chemicals and me don't mix. It doesn't matter if it's prescribed or even over the counter, I can abuse that easily," she said. "A drug is a drug is a drug, if it makes your human body feel different, I like it. ... I have to stay away from that. If I keep using, I'm going to die. I'm young and I have a whole life in front of me."
Although her family feels frustrated because of her addiction, Jackie said they still have been supportive.
"They say they just want to strangle me, but they love me. ... It's hard for them to watch that."
Feeling determined this trip to rehab will kick the addiction she described as an evil entity in her body, Jackie said she wants to educate people about drug and alcohol addiction once she is out.
"I'm eager. I'm excited. ... I feel determined," she said about rehab. "I've got to be a good person because I can be an asset to the community. I can help other people, I can spread the word, I can help other women that are struggling with stuff like this, because I've been there and done that. There is not any drug that I've never done."
Jackie said if she could say one thing to someone wanting to try heroin, she would simply tell them not to do it.
"Don't do it, please don't do it, I beg you," she said. "It's real, and it's life or death. It's not something to mess with."
METRICH's battle against heroin
Chuck Boyer, unit coordinator of the Seneca County Drug Task Force-METRICH Enforcement Unit, said heroin has been coming to the county from Toledo and Columbus, and has hit the area hard within the last 8-12 months.
"It came, and it came hard," Boyer said. "Right now, heroin is top of the line."
Currently there are three pending investigations involving heroin abuse and trafficking in Seneca County, Boyer said, and a lot of heroin users in the area are dealing the drug just to provide for their own habit.
Commander Lt. Dino Sgambellone of the Richland County METRICH unit said Seneca County, along with seven other counties METRICH covers, has had a significant amount of heroin confiscated.
He said Seneca County had 84 grams of confiscated heroin by the end of October, an amount that totals to around $12,000-$15,000 in retail value.
"Twenty-four grams really represents a substantial amount of retail sales," he said. "It's an emerging problem. People using really is increasing at an exponential rate."
Although METRICH isn't dealing with large-scale heroin dealers in Seneca County, Boyer said heroin use is quickly spreading and affecting every socio-economic class in its path.
"Heroin is just such an addicting drug, there's no type of society that is immune from it," Boyer said. "Heroin is a very scary drug, from both the investigator's standpoint and the abuser's."
A lot of heroin abuse starts with prescription drug abuse, Boyer said, and a type of heroin most commonly turned to is black-tar heroin.
He said many users in Seneca County have followed the trend.
Like tar, black-tar heroin is sticky and dark in color, and is sold in balloons that cost between $40 and $50 each, Boyer said.
Heroin can be ingested, snorted or injected, Boyer explained, but many users prefer injecting the drug to quicken the onset of effects.
"Everything is burnt down to be injected," Boyer said.
Still searching for answers about why so many Seneca County residents are turning to heroin, Boyer said he does know an increase in violent crimes is trailing behind.
"What comes along with an increase in abuse is an increase in violent crimes. ... The addiction is so great," Boyer said.
With heroin activity sporadic in Seneca County before 2008, Tiffin Municipal Court Judge Mark Repp said he rarely saw heroin-related cases in his courtroom.
Already close to a dozen heroin cases are under his belt this year, and Repp said the growing issue has presented him with several unique problems.
Citing heroin as the most devastating drug he has dealt with in his courtroom, Repp said it's sometimes hard to decide which way cases should go.
Ultimately, residential treatment is key in healing, but Repp said sometimes users will not stay.
To help push users away from influences from the start, Repp said a jail stay upfront is necessary sometimes.
"People are just not rational on heroin," Repp said. "I don't think we can quite understand the addicitiveness of this drug. It's unbelievable."
Repp said he has been talking with other judges and officials in Tiffin to combat the heroin problem, and said an important goal of his is to get users back to being productive citizens again.
"It's a real serious problem we need to be aware of," Repp said. "We need as a community to be vigilant about it."
METRICH, like Repp, is working hard in combating heroin by taking small pockets of it off the streets, Boyer said.
Boyer said because the heroin source isn't in Tiffin, they're working with other METRICH units to get to larger pockets.
"If we combat heroin with a strong hand, we'll prevent violent crime," Boyer said.
Boyer said METRICH has not forgotten about its battle with other street drugs, and although heroin investigations are piling in, the task force unit considers itself successful.
"If we weren't successful, people would be coming to our region to get it, and they're not," Boyer said. "We have been successful, and are still working to be successful."