By Ed Runyan
The headlines in Warren over the past couple of years have chronicled the relationship between Detroit drug dealers and Warren crime.
Recently, Detroit native and drug dealer Derrick Peete got a life prison sentence for his role in a shocking Sunday morning display of gun violence that killed a Warren man near a downtown church in 2012.
Over the past year, federal and local courts have handed down stiff prison sentences for individuals from Warren and Detroit dealing in drugs and guns in the city.
James Cohen of Detroit, who associated with Peete in Warren, was convicted last year of one Detroit murder and is charged in another.
But Mark Hines, who assists addicts in the Trumbull County jail as a volunteer for the Warren nonprofit Hope House and Youngstown faith-based Ohio Valley Teen Challenge, says the problem with Trumbull County drug addiction runs deeper than just an influx of Detroit dope.
“As long as there’s demand, there’s going to be a supply,” said Hines, who’s been clean more than eight years after a decades-long drug addiction.
“The police are not going to stop them,” he said. Addicts will feed their habit no matter what it takes, he added.
“The Detroit boys are not coming down here robbing us,” Hines said, describing them more as being higher in the chain. “The people robbing us are local people. They’ll walk right into your home and rob you in broad daylight. They’ll walk into the BP gas station and rob it in broad daylight. They’ll go into [stores] and fill up a cart and go out the fire exit and take stuff to the pawn shop.”
Hines added that most addicts have an “enabler,” such as a parent or grandparent who “can’t stand to see the addict sick,” so they allow the abuse to continue. “I’ve seen mothers going to the dope house to buy drugs for the kids,” he said.
On Thursday morning, Hines said he had just been inside the jail to visit five inmates, three of whom have no access to drug treatment because they lack private insurance or Medicaid.
Hines said the best hope for reducing the drug problem here is treatment.
“Detox by itself does no good,” Hines said of being in the jail a week or so after the addict gets arrested. “One week in here and next week, when they’re out, they’re using again.”
But Hines said an addict in jail is better than an addict on the streets: “I’m glad they’re here. They’re not going to be robbing you and me. They’re not going to be on the obituary page.”
The best type of addiction treatment is inpatient, meaning full-time, Hines and Mahoning County drug-abuse professional Andrea Paventi agree.
Paventi runs Mahoning County Treatment Alternatives to Street Crimes, or TASC, which tracks and tests Mahoning County substance abusers. TASC and Meridian Community Care, which recently merged, are hoping to begin offering more services in Trumbull County. Trumbull County has no agency like TASC, Paventi said.
Trumbull County offers no inpatient treatment programs, so Hines and Paventi refer people to such facilities in Youngstown, Hermitage, Pa., Canton, Akron and Cleveland.
Many of the programs are one month or three months. Hines said he likes one in Cleveland that lasts eight months. “Twenty-eight days is rarely enough,” he said.
Hines said heroin is plentiful and cheap in Warren. “It’s as easy to find as water,” he said.
“It’s too much of a commodity,” agreed Maj. Tom Stewart of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, a longtime Warren-area police investigator. “As soon as one [drug dealer] goes down, another one is in operation.”
Hines and Stewart say the age of the addict has dropped in recent years. “I’ve never seen so many young girls addicted to heroin,” Stewart said.
Paventi spoke two weeks ago to the U.S. House of Representatives Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, of which Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, is a member. She urged members to provide more treatment money through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help those without insurance.
Paventi said there is another class of obstacles to treatment besides lack of funding.
Ohio agreed to Medicaid expansion last year, but the process to sign up online or through the county’s Department of Job and Family Services is complicated.
It takes four to six weeks to get approval, which is “a long time for an addict,” Paventi said.
In that amount of time, an addict frequently goes “AWOL,” meaning he or she doesn’t go to appointments and court hearings, because they are back on drugs.
Frequently, the addicts who are covered by insurance are unable to get treatment because their family members are “fed up,” she said.
TASC helps fill those voids, taking people to treatment programs and helping them apply for Medicaid.
“It’s frustrating for us to navigate. I can’t imagine an addict being able to navigate it,” she said.