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  1. chillinwill
    Heroin addicts are in our midst in Hancock County, and their numbers are increasing, authorities said Friday.

    Gone is the image of a scraggly-looking man standing on the street corner, badly in need of a shave and shower, shooting heroin into his veins. Instead, addicts today may be your neighbors, co-workers and family members who have become entrapped in the disease of addiction, officials said at a forum held at the Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

    Attending the forum were roughly 15 people, including law enforcement, a judge, substance abuse therapists, doctors, and others who come into contact with drug addicts on a daily basis.

    "We are seeing a drastic increase in the abuse of heroin," said Lt. Sean Young of the Findlay Police Department.

    In 2008, the Hancock County Drug Task Force METRICH Enforcement Unit arrested 11 people for trafficking in heroin, a number which increased to 16 in 2009, Young said.

    The unit seized 24 grams of heroin in 2008. Last year the amount seized nearly quadrupled to 80 grams.

    The heroin is coming from Toledo and Detroit, said Sgt. Jim Mathias of the task force.

    Heroin addiction often begins with legal prescriptions for pain medications. But as the prescriptions run out and people become addicted to painkillers, they resort to other means to get their opiate fix, according to Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

    They turn to the street for an affordable opiate substitute -- heroin, a highly-addictive, sometimes fatal drug.

    A balloon filled with heroin is selling for between $6 and $18. In contrast, the pain reliever Oxycontin can cost up to $50 a tablet, according to Angy Shaferly, a registered nurse at Anhedonia, an addiction treatment center in Findlay.

    In the late 1990s and early 2000s, "you hardly ever saw people with opiate addiction, but that has changed dramatically," said Lynn Snyder, a substance abuse therapist at Century Health.

    Between June 2008 and July 2009, Century Health treated 30 people for opiate addiction, but since then, 51 have been or are being treated, she said.

    And this may only be scraping the surface, according to Dr. Don Iliff with Century Health. He said there are likely more addicts who have not sought treatment. The numbers provided by Snyder only include those who have been ordered by judges to enroll in treatment programs.

    The officials also said they see opiate addiction beginning with young people. It can start in high school when youths raid their parents' medicine cabinet for pain medications, and continue on down the path, eventually arriving at heroin.

    But opiate addiction is not unique to the young.

    "I've seen 50- and 60-year-old ladies who are buying pills on the street because their doctors cut them off because they have been in the system so long," Shaferly said.

    But help is out there, according to all of those in attendance Friday.

    "There are services available," Stuby said. "But there are a lot of people that don't know how to access those services."

    For those unsure of what services exist, she suggests starting with the county's 2-1-1 telephone service, which is an information and referral system designed to direct people to the appropriate service.

    Those at the forum also gave some tips for recognizing if a loved one, friend or fellow employee has become addicted to heroin. Sometimes, it can be difficult to pick up on, they said.

    Some signs to look for include: shakiness, slurred speech, extreme sweating, or visible track lines on arms.

    More easily noticed will be the changes in the person's daily functions. Perhaps they will be unable to pay utility bills, stealing from family members, missing work frequently, making frequent visits to various doctors, or having a change in friends.

    The community can also try to curb opiate abuse beginning at the prescription drug level.

    "This is a preventable disease and one of the things every person in this community can do to help prevent the disease is to round up medications, clean out purses and shelves and throw out all of your old medicines," Stuby said.

    This will prevent people from taking the drugs to use them or divert them to others, she said.

    January 30, 2010
    The Courier


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