COLUMBIANA CO. Officials see sharp upturn in drug use

The drugs have a higher value than their weight in gold.
LISBON -- Columbiana County law enforcement leaders are sounding an alarm about what they say is a sharp rise in drug use, especially heroin, and drug overdose deaths in the county.
Prosecutor Robert Herron says the drug use and drinking problem is evenly spreading throughout the county. "It's anywhere you go," he said.
The problem, the prosecutor said, includes all social and economic levels. He's been speaking throughout the county about the problem, and while groups seem concerned afterward, Herron wants people to mobilize.
"It's not just a law enforcement problem," Herron said.
Officials paint a sobering picture as the long out-of-vogue drug heroin makes a comeback.
In 2001-03, there were 18 overdose deaths in the county tied to illegal drugs. The county has had the same number of overdose deaths in 2004-05.
Four of those deaths in 2004-05 were caused in part by heroin, said Fran Rudibaugh, the investigator for the county coroner's office.
From 2002 to 2004, the Columbiana County Drug Task Force seized 220 doses of heroin. So far in 2005, the task force has seized 1,452 doses.
The task force seized 1,233 grams of crack cocaine from 1992 to 2004, but has seized almost as much -- 1,018 grams of crack -- so far in 2005. For comparison, the task force this year has seized only 90 doses of prescription drugs.
Brian McLaughlin, task force director, says the nine-member unit is swamped.
The task force has received 147 drug abuse tips so far this year. McLaughlin said that people with information should call (330) 424-0309.
Competing factions
Two factions, one from Michigan and one from New Jersey, are currently competing to corner the county as a drug market, Herron said. That's because the drugs are worth more than their weight in gold.
Gold was recently selling in financial markets for $435 an ounce. Each of the 28 grams in an ounce of cocaine would sell for $150 to $250.
The problem mostly involves adults age 18 to 30, officials said.
The drug problem hasn't shown up in schools so far, Herron said. And the average citizen isn't likely to see the effects of the drug use since much of it occurs in the middle of the night.
Herron said, "I was shocked to the activity going on in the darkness."
The prosecutor also was walking along a road in daylight looking for evidence in a homicide when a man stopped to tell him about a surge of crack cocaine use in a nearby community.
He hopes the public will become proactive in the fight against drugs.
"City fathers have to get involved," Herron said. "They need to make it a priority."
Of the county's last six or seven homicides, all but one had some connection to drugs, Herron said.
Other concerns
But drug abuse plays a role in other problems and crimes, ranging from health and family issues to shoplifting, fraud, thefts and assaults.
Herron hopes community leaders won't wait until the damage is done.
Methamphetamine has not become popular in the county as in other areas so far, although labs that make the drug have been found in nearby counties.
Eloise Traina, the head of the Family Recovery Center that provides drug and alcohol counseling, said the center was starting to see a surge in drug cases, including heroin and methamphetamine. Traina said most of those cases come from the court system.
Traina added that her agency also is seeing an increase in referrals for heroin and cocaine abuse from employers who randomly test employees for drug use.

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