Heroin and prescription drug abuse is a statewide epidemic, and locally, it is the catalyst behind nearly all of Seneca County Prosecutor Derek DeVine's criminal cases.
DeVine and Matthew Donahue, section chief of the special prosecutor's section with the Ohio Attorney General's Office, spoke Wednesday evening about the drugs and their prevalence throughout Seneca County and the state.
"It's in all of our lives," Donahue told audience members at "Let's Talk" Ohio's Opiate Epidemic presented by Community Action for Reducing Substance Abuse.
PHOTO BY ERIKA PLATT-HANDRU
Matthew Donahue of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office listens to an audience member during “Let’s Talk” Ohio’s Opiate Epidemic Wednesday evening at North Central Academy.
DeVine said prescription pill and heroin abuse has been on the rise locally since 2008, and now, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't been affected by the drugs.
"It was a little fire that got a whole bunch of fuel and has been burning through the community for the last five or six years," DeVine said.
He estimated between 65 and 70 percent of criminal cases that make their way through his office involve addiction issues, whether it be drug trafficking, theft or burglary.
"It is a huge issue and it affects everyone in the community," he said.
Donahue, who assists local law enforcement when requested, said the attorney general's office has been working hard to fight prescription drug abuse, heroin and synthetic drugs such as K2, spice and bath salts. The use of all of those drugs has been on the rise, he said.
Donahue led the audience through the history of opiates and other drugs that have been prevalent in the United States, and said currently, the country consumes 80 percent of the global opiate supply. That number includes almost the entire hydrocodone supply, he said.
"There are people who need and should have prescription drugs and painkillers, but when we consume 80 percent of the world's supply, there is a problem."
Donahue also said that since 2007, unintentional drug overdoses have been the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state. Every day, four people die in the state from unintentional prescription drug overdoses, he said.
"That becomes scary when you realize this is the No. 1 way you're going to die," he said.
Donahue said the most common ways prescription opiates make their way to streets include forged or altered prescriptions, doctor shopping, thefts from residences, internet pharmacies, robberies or burglaries of pharmacies and bad prescribers. Bad prescribers include what is known as "pill mills," he said.
Donahue said while "pill mills" have been on the decrease due to the government shutting them down, at one time, Florida had more pill mills than it had McDonald's.
Donahue said to prevent medication thefts from residences, the most common avenue for them to reach the streets, unused medication should be disposed of properly and in a safe manner. Drop-off boxes at local law enforcement agencies are a solution, he said.
While prescription opiates make up just half of the state's epidemic, heroin is a drug that often starts with the abuse of prescription drugs.
"Heroin started to make a comeback, partially because of the opiate-addicted population," Donahue said.
"I do not feel that the vast majority wants to just experiment with heroin," he added.
Synthetic drugs, which include bath salts and K2, also have been a problem in the state, Donahue said, and overdoses and death also can a result with the use of those drugs.
"This stuff is overtaking the market," he said.
Donahue said the raw chemicals that make up the drugs often are manufactured overseas. Once they hit the United States, they are sprayed on vegetation, which then is smoked.
"People have incredible delusions on these drugs," Donahue said.
He said House Bill 334, which recently was passed, has been instrumental in shutting down a lot of shops that sell synthetic drugs.
"We're not seeing bath salts and K2 like we were even a year ago," he said.
Donahue said to battle all opiates and synthetic drugs, public awareness and education is key. He encouraged everyone Wednesday evening to educate their family and friends about the drugs.
"The true thing is it's a group effort. It can't be done without everybody being involved," he said.
"It can't be done if people stand in silence."