That was the consensus on heroin Tuesday afternoon during a town hall meeting in Independence hosted by radio station WTAM-1100’s Mike Trivisonno.
“It’s in every suburb, it’s in every city, it’s everywhere,” he said.
Our interest in the discussion was in narcotics detective Gregg Mehling of the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office, who gave his perspective on the drug’s prevalence here across both rural and urban communities where we publish newspapers.
Mehling said many people wrongly believe the heroin epidemic is a problem for police to handle alone.
“It is not a law enforcement problem,” he said. “It is an independent problem. It’s a Lorain problem. It’s an Elyria problem. It’s a community problem. We are trying to solve it.”
Mehling warned parents if they have dealers in their community then their children and families are at risk. “What we would like you to do is if you have information pick up the phone and call somebody,” he said.
Effecting change can take time and there are strict rules about how police can go about stopping dealers and users, he warned.
“Unfortunately, we have to play by the rules and the bad guys don’t,” Mehling said. “Sooner or later we’re going to get you and we’re going to put handcuffs on you.”
On the special program, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the most frustrating part about the heroin problem is getting everyone to understand it.
“It’s unlike any kind of epidemic I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We don’t really know how many people we are losing every week.”
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” DeWine said.
Bob Garrity, an independent chemical dependency counselor and recovered heroin addict, said fighting heroin is a constant battle with no one-time fix.
“The drugs go wherever the money is,” he said.
Using both marijuana and alcohol, along with easy access to heroin, all contributed to his slide into addiction.
Garrity said his parents drank every single night and he recalls having bags of syringes in his basement to inject the drug.
He urged parents to pay attention to their children’s behavior. If cotton balls or spoons go missing, it’s a sign something’s wrong.
Rob Brandt, founder of the non-profit group Robby’s Voice, lost his son Robby to heroin in October 2011.
“Don’t think this can’t happen in your house,” he said. “I would have never thought this would have entered my home.”
Brandt believes he missed the early signs of his son’s problem because he thought his kids were somehow immune to the lure of drugs.
But he did not notice when Robby’s pupils were the size of pinpoints, his coordination started to fail, and needle marks appeared on his arms. “By the time they get to needle marks they’re so far down the road,” Brandt said.
Robby’s heroin addiction was discovered when his mother found a receipt in his room for a bottle of water from East Cleveland. Robby had no reason to be over there, Brandt said.
DeWine said he has seen Ohio making progress over the past six months in fighting the heroin epidemic.
“Everybody has to come together,” DeWine said. “We think if we had more communities really involved it’ll help.”
Garrity believes one medicine that has been helpful in saving lives is naloxone, also known as Narcan.
Police and emergency medical technicians in Lorain County carry the anti-opioid spray with them and use it on suspected overdose victims. Rescue workers in Amherst, Oberlin, and Wellington have reported finding and reviving blue-faced drug users suffocating to death as the heroin stops their breathing.
Garrity said naloxone should be readily available for everyone, placed on public walls next to automated external defibrillators.
Educating children about drugs and what could happen to them is crucial, Mehling and DeWine agreed.
“This country, we don’t do by and large a very good job of educating,” DeWine said.
“The first-time prescription pill abuser in the state of Ohio is 14 years old,” Mehling said. “The first marijuana experience is 12 years old.”
Without a long-term commitment to educate children about the dangers of drugs, young people will believe they pose little to no risk, he said.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.
Officials agree heroin can be found everywhere and every child needs to be educated on its dangers. The drug is typically injected, so if you find cotton balls missing in large quantities, that’s a danger sign.