TIPP CITY — While every county in Ohio has been hit hard by the heroin epidemic, neighboring Montgomery County is a major epicenter for opioid distribution and activity in the region.
“Right Time, Right Place,” a town hall meeting hosted by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department and Montgomery County Drug-Free Coalition at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, addressed the heroin epidemic and the steps being taken to combat it.
Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer, Chief Deputy Rob Streck and other members of the department spoke to a full house Tuesday night.
“It has taken government a while to figure out this is a disease and we have to do more for it,” Plummer said.
Plummer said the department started hosting town hall events as a way to do more than just lock up those who are struggling with addiction.
“I get tired of the revolving door. We get addicts in, we hold them for three days, we have to wait three more months to get their substance tested. They get out and three days later, they’ll be back in,” he said, adding that the county jail takes in about 27,000 people every year. “Us being public servants, we’re here to help.”
Much of the discussion focused on Montgomery County, which is the source of most heroin and other substances in the region.
“This epidemic hit us like a tornado,” Streck said.
Dayton is a “source city” and a major hub for two main drug cartels, the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana Cartel, Streck said. With access to Interstates 70 and 75, Dayton is ideal for distribution.
“Source city means that’s where you come to get your drugs for cheap. So if you’re from Troy, if you’re from Piqua, from Springfield or Richmond, Indiana, places like that, you’re paying about $20 or $25 dollars for a cap of heroin,” he said. “If you’re not from our area, you pay $65 a cap.”
People travel to the Dayton area to buy cheaper heroin, enough to feed their habit and have enough left to take home and sell, Streck said. “If they survive the night, they’ll do it all over again the next day,” he said.
“Caps” or capsules of heroin are a Dayton invention, Streck added. Instead of wrapping heroin in foil or plastic, someone in the Dayton area started filling empty gel caps that are available in bulk at health-food stores.
“So nationwide, if they get caps of heroin, they know it comes from our region,” he said.
Mexican to U.S. drug trade brings in an estimated $64 billion annually from the sale of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy, he added.
Halfway through the year, Miami County had recorded 25 drug overdose deaths, according to County Coroner William Ginn. Ginn’s report stated that 10 deaths were attributed to fentanyl as of June 30. Other drugs included cocaine, fentanyl analogs, carfentanyl, hydrocodone, methamphetamine, alcohol, and heroin.
Last year, there were 1,705 overdoses in Montgomery County. As of the end of October, there were 3,284 overdoses. The death rate from overdoses in 2015 was 259; in 2016, 349; and so far this year, it is 523, according to the sheriff’s office.
“It’s everywhere,” Streck said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter your race, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.”
The epidemic has its roots in the crackdown on pill mills, where people could easily obtain prescription drugs, Streck said.
“We did a good job of shutting them down. The problem is when we shut them down, we left a lot of people what? Addicted without anywhere to go,” he said.
Streck also puts some of the blame on the push to legalize marijuana, which he said opened the door wider to drug cartels.
People who abuse other substances are more likely to use heroin, he said.
Bruce Langos, executive director of the Criminal Intelligence Center, also pinned some of the blame on the over-prescription of opioid pain medication. About 65 opioid pain medications are prescribed per individual in the state of Ohio, Langos said.
The United States represents about 5 percent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 percent of the world’s opiates.
“We need another form of pain management other than handing us pills,” he said, adding that everyone responds differently to opioids. While one individual might take a full course of prescribed opiate drugs and be fine, another might become addicted, he said.
Heroin is a natural substance and is three to five times more potent than morphine. Lab-produced fentanyl — a legal medication when prescribed and which Streck described as a “nightmare” — is 100 times stronger than morphine.
“It started killing people very quickly,” he said.
Carfentanil, a large animal sedative, is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. A dose the size of a grain of salt can kill. Drug dealers often mix substances in capsules they sell, so many people don’t know for sure what they’re buying, Streck noted.
The impact of the epidemic is not just seen in the rise of overdose deaths, but also in the increase in associated crimes like robbery; added strain on emergency services; growing numbers of children in foster care; and in people dropping out of the job market in Ohio because they can’t pass drug tests.
Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Erik Blaine said he deals with heroin-related cases “every single day.”
“I can tell you, the majority of my docket is drug-related,” he said. In the majority of cases, children are involved, which has overloaded the foster care system, he added.
He said town hall discussions, increased awareness and combating the stigma surrounding addiction are key to overcoming the epidemic.
“Change won’t happen in downtown Troy, it’s going to happen in downtown Dayton, Columbus or even D.C. Change happens right here. It happens in churches and it happens with our families. Have this discussion at the dinner table so I won’t have it across the bench,” Blaine said.
The speakers also discussed the department’s efforts to combat the epidemic.
In 2017, the department’s bulk smuggling task force seized $6.5 million and drugs valued at $36 million, including 216 pounds of heroin and fentanyl, 3 tons of marijuana, 218 pounds of cocaine and thousands of prescription pills. The task force also seized 87 firearms.
In addition to cracking down on drug dealers, the department is also increasing its outreach efforts to help people access addiction services.
“We’ll take the individuals who want help, we’ll put them in the back of the cruiser and drive them to one of these addiction services locations,” Langos said.
The event also included speaker Shaun Gardner, a recovering addict who serves at Ginghamsburg’s Next Step Recovery Ministry. Gardner shared his story of addiction and recovery, which began at a very young age. His experiences with drugs began as a small child growing up in abusive situations.
Gardner called addiction a “destructive path that destroyed my relationship with my family, my children, my friends and my life.”
He will celebrate nine months of sobriety in this month.
“I am proud of where I’m going and I will be a good father to my son, and that is priceless,” he said.
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org