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By JOE GORMAn
Heroin has everything someone could possibly want in a drug.
It’s cheap. It’s available.
In some circles, it’s chic.
It takes away pain and helps you feel better.
But for every good thing, there is something bad.
With heroin, the bad is addiction and death.
It’s especially lethal when combined with other drugs.
This second decade of the 21st century has launched with a stunning rise in heroin use and in overdose deaths.
The coroners for Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Dr. Joseph Ohr and Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, respectively, say some of that is to be expected from a drug that is not regulated and is prepared for sale by people who often have no idea what they are doing or putting into the drug.
“When you purchase your little bag, you have no idea what is in there,” Dr. Germaniuk said.
“You have no idea what you’re putting in your body,” added Lt. Jeff Orr from the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, who heads up the Trumbull Ashtabula Law Enforcement Task Force, which investigates drug crimes in Trumbull County.
Dr. Germaniuk said drug dealers “cut” or add other chemicals to the heroin to maximize profits and make it last longer, so people who are taking the drug are often not getting the full effect.
“If they get an ounce, then they’ll try to double it,” Orr said.
The trend over the last couple of years, however, is for drug dealers to sell purer heroin and give it less of a cut, which gives a stronger high and drives up demand. But that also makes the drug more deadly.
“It’s not bad heroin. It’s better heroin,” Dr. Germaniuk
Lt. Gerald Slattery, who heads the vice squad for the Youngstown Police Department, said a typical single dose of heroin, called a bindle, goes for $20.
Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, who runs the drug court there, said increased heroin usage began in 2006 and 2007, and now 85 percent of the people in the drug-court program are people with heroin or opiate-based addictions.
A watershed year for Ohio was 2007, the first year accidental drug overdoses were the leading cause of death, supplanting car accidents.
Drs. Ohr and Dr. Germaniuk each said the majority of overdoses in their counties in recent years come from a combination of drugs, in which heroin or an opiate-based substance is used with another drug.
Dr. Ohr said 50 of the 283 death investigations his office handled in 2012 involved drug overdoses, and of those cases, about half involved heroin in one way or another. Of those cases, 11 people also had cocaine in their system; eight people had Valium, Ohr said.
Heroin is “back, and it’s cheap,” Dr. Ohr said.
Heroin is a drug that controls the nervous system and is a depressant, Dr. Germaniuk said. It shuts down motor skills and adversely affects heart rate and breathing.
“It tends to slowly dim the lights upstairs,” Dr. Germaniuk said.
Orr, along with Bob Bolzano, head of the local federal Drug Enforcement Administration office, and Judge Durkin all said a main reason heroin use has increased is that doctors are prescribing opiate-based painkillers more frequently.
Patients then become addicted, and if they can get no more prescriptions, then they must get that medication on the black market. Often, they will make the switch to heroin because it is cheaper.
Despite the dangers, heroin and opiates remain popular because of the calming effect they have on people.
“Any drug that takes away pain or anxiety is addictive,” Dr. Ohr added.