Heroin diaries: Stories are stranger than fiction

« The Valley's Opioid Crisis

By Joe Gorman



Whether the story I’ve been hearing from cops on the beat is true or not, I don’t know.

But like all good stories, it probably has a kernel of truth, and in this spring and now summer of heroin, it has become popular.

It goes like this:

A man overdosed on heroin. In some versions of the story he overdosed twice in one day. In another version, he overdosed three times. Each time he was revived with the antidote Narcan. After his last overdose he was asked why he took a chance on shooting up again.

“Because,” goes the reply, “I figured I had enough Narcan in me so I could do some more.”

The story is accompanied by laughs and shaking heads, and I have heard it several times as I have been on all sides of town over the past month, because the only way to know what is going on is to get out and see it.

And it is going on all over Youngstown. One afternoon, I was on my way to East Auburndale Avenue on the South Side where a man was overdosing, but before I got there police were called to Milton Street on the West Side for a woman lying in the middle of the road from a heroin overdose.

On Milton Street, an ambulance was delayed because of heavy business. I could hear officers on the radio asking if any of the two supervisors working that day had Narcan. YPD supervisors are equipped with the heroin antidote but not beat officers.

The two supervisors replied they did but one was on the East Side and the other was on the far South Side, long distances in mid-day traffic. The South supervisor was on his way when the victim was revived by her father, who keeps Narcan handy because his daughter is an addict.

This was the first time I heard the story, when I arrived shortly after the ambulance whisked the woman away. She also was not the first person dumped. That is another theme that is making the rounds, as a woman was dumped in the devil’s strip on Gibson Avenue in the middle of her overdose. She lived, but a person dumped somewhere on the North Side in May died.

I saw the dumping phenomenon a few days later on West Chalmers Avenue on the South Side as two men who were overdosing were dumped in a yard. They were revived with Narcan, one needing four hits, and when he came to, he attacked the paramedics. I was taking pictures when I got in the way of an officer. Later I told him I was sorry and he said not to worry about it. “This is the story of our times,” he sighed.

The use of Narcan has been a hot-button topic on social media, with many people saying there should be some sort of limit or that addicts should just be left to die. Though I sense a lot of frustration among cops and paramedics, I don’t pick up on that vibe at all. I doubt they would tell me, an outsider, even if they were thinking it, but I get the sense of professionalism; they did not agree to be a cop or paramedic to respond to someone in trouble and then do nothing. So they do their jobs the best they can. I think it is wrong to ask them to play God, anyway.

Some officers have said they wish they had Narcan with them, while one told me some are afraid to use it because of liability issues should they use it the wrong way.

When I went with vice squad and Community Police Unit members to serve search warrants on South Portland and East Judson avenues earlier this month at suspected drug houses, they had Narcan with them, and they all wore gloves. The incident in East Liverpool where an officer almost died after he got fentanyl on his skin has spooked a lot of cops, so at least the ones I ran into are taking more precautions now.

The East Judson house was a pigsty, and when the officers found a small amount of heroin, they held it up in their gloved hands and said, “here’s the gray death,” which is what some people call it.

There was no fentanyl on South Portland, but there was $3,000 worth of crack cocaine and six guns in a locked room. Officers who were in the house said there was a “smorgasbord of doors” inside, and behind one of them they found the guns and drugs. A man was arrested and was cuffed and sat on the porch with his son and the boy’s grandmother.

One of the common themes in the briefing officers received before serving the warrants was that all the houses they were to search – there was a third one police did not get to that night – had children living there. The officers I was with were marveling at how someone could keep “gray death” not only in their home but in a place where a child could get hold of it. Unfortunately, this is not something new.

And neither are the stories. I am sure there will be more this summer and in years to come. I wonder who the man is who has been the talk of the streets this year. I wonder how he is doing. Is he in jail? Is he in rehab? Is he dead?

Some day I wouldn’t mind meeting him if he somehow stays alive.

That would be a great story.

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