Miami County has been facing full jail cells and a revolving door in the court system as the law enforcement and judicial branches of government try to find solutions to the ever increasing use of heroin.
Recently I sat down with Chief Deputy Dave Duchak, Jail Administrator David Norman and Detective Major Steve Lord to discuss the situation they are dealing with. One of the biggest problems they face is the short ride down I-75 to Dayton where the Mexican drug trafficking organizations are sending their drug mules. The courier typically has ingested wrapped pellets containing heroin with strict instructions on how to deliver the drug without damaging the capsules or being caught by TSA agents at the airport.
Heroin has become the drug of choice for addicts. Cocaine once ruled the drug user’s world, but in the early 2000’s heroin became the street drug of choice. Detective Lord confirmed that back in 1997 local law enforcement officers were dealing with cocaine and marijuana users. Meth never made its way to Miami County, heroin use took over instead.
The struggle to deal with user arrests has kept the courts across Ohio and the country busy. The real answer would be to cut off the source; however there is big money behind the transport of the drugs and enforcement can be difficult.
Miami County covers 404 square miles and the road patrol is just 29 deputies. Forming partnerships with the Montgomery, Darke and Shelby Counties is one way to keep minimally ahead of the problem.
The female jail population has tripled according to Lt. David Norman in recent months. The cost of treating inmates while they are incarcerated has risen significantly for the county. When an inmate comes to the facility with drugs in their system, they begin the process of detoxing. Norman described the coming down off of a heroin high as very painful such as a very bad case of the flu with joint pain. They must keep the inmates hydrated because of the intestinal consequences of not being high. The officers noted that 70% of the inmates in Miami County are chemically dependent.
Some of the statistics shared by Duchak were eye opening. The young women who enter the jail are sometimes pregnant and using drugs. The county must not only take care of their medical needs, but also their pre-natal treatment and the unborn child who is receiving the same illegal drug from their mother. Two inmates gave birth in the month of September while serving time with the average being 8-10 babies born per year.
The county sees its share of overdose calls. To date the number is around 50 users within the county. One of the biggest problems being faced in Ohio is the closure of mental health institutions. This puts the burden back on the local taxpayers as numbers of inmates increase and funding for therapy does not exist.
Jail overcrowding is a problem as well. The maximum security jail in downtown Troy holds 48 inmates. The Rt 25A facility will hold 120. The county has had to send 15 females to Shelby County due to the overcrowding problem.
Chief Duchak believes that the decline in the close knit family is contributing to the problem of drug use. He noted that many young people are looking for instant gratification and use the term “it’s not my fault” quite freely.
Another problem law enforcement agencies are finding is that there is no federal program to educate citizens about the dangers of heroin and other drug use. The presidential candidates are also skirting the issue on both sides of the aisle. The popular 1980’s campaign of “this is your brain” showing an egg followed by “this is your brain on drugs” showing a fried egg has not seen a similar campaign launched to educate the young people of today in nearly three decades.
The Miami County Sheriff is partnering with the court system and the Tri-County Mental Health Board to try to develop a new program that would help inmates who are released and truly wish to change their habits and find a clean life.
The program being proposed would allow drug users to begin working toward sobriety at the time when they are most at risk which is when they walk out of the prison doors. Former users would need to commit to a long term treatment plan that includes medication to help reduce the craving for heroin and social / mental health rehabilitation.
The program will come at a cost to the county; however the inmate who wants to truly change will be able to receive some assistance. Vivitrol is an injected drug that is estimated to cost between $1,000 and $1,500 per injection. Naltrexone is the pill form of the medication which costs around $20 per month and is covered by public and private insurance. An inmate who would qualify for the program would receive the drug in a manner decided by a physician.
While on the medication, the goal is to work with the former drug users to seek counseling and support to change their cognitive behavior. They would only be on the drugs for a short duration as this is not a “fix” for the rest of their lives. The medications serve as gap filler until the individual can recover using various forms of therapy and life style adaptations to return to society as a productive individual and not return to the streets of Dayton looking for a heroin connection.
The screening process is still in the planning stages as are the details of the program. It does however offer hope to both the law enforcement agencies and inmates who may be truly ready to break the cycle.
While visiting the Rt 25A facility, Lt Norman provided a tour of this California style center. We were stopped just outside the kitchen by a young man who was eager to speak with “the reporter”. He discussed how he had come to be incarcerated and filled in details of what he had learned about the possible opportunity to change his life. He noted that he came from a family of some stature in the community but had chosen the wrong path to heroin instead of the family business. He had achieved the status of a trustee at the facility and told us repeatedly how he was looking forward to being considered for the Vivitrol program. News is spreading fast about the potential for change, but it is unclear how many inmates will truly pass the screening process.
As we discussed how the community could help with the heroin problem being faced in Miami County the officers stated that they wanted to “partner with the community”. “There are so many more eyes” they said and explained that residents know their neighborhoods and can call the dispatch if they see suspected drug activity on their street.
Many heroin users are gainfully employed while using their drug of choice. The story of a nurse who had a family but turned to heroin and is now living on the streets was hard to understand.
Many users are stealing from retailers both large and small and selling the items to pay for their habit. Car break-ins for spare change visible from the window happen across the country. Home break-ins are also a source of easy cash because dealers will take electronics instead of cash. Dealers can sell the game systems, cell phones, computers and televisions.
Hard working families are paying the price for the heroin epidemic each time prices are raised at the store to cover losses. Modern day Bonnie and Clydes are walking into banks and other financial institutions to grab some cash to support their drug habit leaving employees and customers frightened long after the robbery is over.
Without a federal campaign to find the drug lords across the border in Mexico or to shut down the couriers who travel the roads and skies to get to big cities and places that dot the map like Dayton containment of the problem will not happen. Law enforcement agencies across the country are frustrated with the lack of additional funding from the state or the federal lawmakers to help put more officers on the street.
Heroin appears to be here to stay until the next cheap high comes along. At $5 a cap, it is affordable and just a few miles down the interstate for users across the Miami Valley.