Fighting a local and national epidemic


Heroin is here. It affects everyone, either directly or indirectly.

Men and women of all ages and income levels more commonly use heroin than before, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those who had the lowest rates of heroin use have begun to catch up dramatically. Women, the privately insured and people with higher incomes have seen the greatest increase in heroin use.

Across the United States, heroin use jumped 63 percent between 2002 and 2013, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health states.

Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid painkillers, according to the CDC. As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled. Nationally, 8,200 people died in 2013 alone.

The 2002-2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that non-Hispanic whites, men age 18 to 25, people with annual household incomes less than $20,000, Medicaid recipients and the uninsured are most likely to use or become dependent upon heroin.

Most of them use more than one drug, too. Of those who use heroin, 96 percent use at least one more drug and 61 percent, three more. Heroin use or dependency is 40 times more likely in people who abuse or are dependent on prescription opioid painkillers, including those who rely on a prescribed medicine to manage pain.

Police agencies in Clinton County and the courts exhaust a huge amount of time and resources investigating abuse of heroin and other drugs.

Every week, and seemingly every day, the News Journal reports on those efforts and the people arrested for heroin use or trafficking and of those arrested, convicted and sentenced.

But it’s not only the authorities who pay a price.

It’s the community whose citizens and businesses are victims of crimes that have their roots in drug addiction.

It’s the residents whose lives have been taken hold of by heroin.

It’s the churches, who spend hours in nonstop prayer for heroin’s victims.

It’s their families who suffer and are forced to face the difficult decision of enabling a loved one to destroy his or her life or cut that person out of their lives.

And it’s the children, who suffer at the hands of their addicted parents, are separated from their loved ones and spend weeks, or even months, in foster care watching their fates play out in a court room.

Many of those children won’t see their parents until the latter sober up. Others won’t see them for years.

Still others will never see them, because their mom or dad, or both, died.

Law enforcement is doing everything within its power and resources to combat the epidemic, from tough penalties to tough love.

We commend Clinton County Common Pleas Court Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck for his implementation of the You-Turn Recovery Docket.

The program, approaching its first birthday, aims to rehabilitate addicts going through the judicial system by diverting them from prison and intervening in their lives. Some people progress through the system and will, hopefully, one day graduate and live a clean, long life. Others fail, relapse and may go to prison.

Those who struggle to complete the program are prime examples of the tight grip that heroin has on addicts.

Community members and groups, churches, and others are also doing what they can to stem the tide and to help those addicted.

It was CDC Director Thomas Frieden, M.D, who said, “To reverse this trend, we need an all-of-society response — to improve opioid prescribing practices to prevent addiction, expand access to effective treatment for those who are addicted, increase use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, and work with law enforcement partners like DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] to reduce the supply of heroin.”

In the coming days, the News Journal will begin a series of stories by reporter Nathan Kraatz. It will focus on the heroin epidemic locally, from the perspective of law enforcement and the courts to an addict’s point of view and the everyday struggles.

We hope it’ll shed some light on this societal problem.

That’s our job as reporters.

More importantly, we hope it saves someone’s life.