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Heroin users place burden on jails

Andy Ouriel • Dec 17, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Inside the Erie County jail today, about 120 inmates landed there for varying reasons.


Some received charges of aggravated robbery or theft. Others are accused of child endangerment and even murder. But the root cause leading many to incarcerations circles back to severe addictions to alcohol and drugs, including heroin. In fact, at any given time, about one out of every three inmates today battles an opiate addiction — a record amount in Erie County.    


Heroin’s considered the most abused opiate.


The H Factor

A special three-day Register series looking at the impact of the heroin epidemic in Erie County

SUNDAY: Smack — Children displaced by drug use.

TODAY: Big H — Users crowd jail

TUESDAY: Brown Sugar — Mental health and addiction.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in heroin use and heroin-related arrests,” Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said. “A lot of people in the jail are committing thefts and burglaries, those type of offenses to help support their heroin addiction”

Heroin crimes occurred sparingly up until a couple of years ago, Sandusky police Chief John Orzech said.

Now, however, there’s at least one heroin bust a month.

Take, for example, local authorities charging:

• Three West Virginia residents with heroin trafficking and multiple drug possession violations in October in Vermilion Township.

Each of their bonds ranged from $50,000 to $75,000.

• A Sandusky man with heroin possession and drug trafficking in November in Sandusky. The bond totaled $20,000.

• Three people, two from Sandusky and one from Detroit, with heroin possession and drug trafficking Dec. 2 in Sandusky. All three had a bond of $135,000.

“It’s significantly on the rise,” Orzech said. “We are probably getting heroin more than cocaine or crack”

Illegal drug use, such as heroin, will likely never go away.

But officials representing agencies overseeing drug use need to convene and collaborate in hopes of ever curbing the heroin epidemic in Erie County, Ohio and the U.S., Sigsworth said.

“It has to be a multidisciplinary approach,” Sigsworth said. “It’s a very serious problem in our community. It’s going to be a long-term solution in fixing this. Nothing will be solved overnight”

While heroin and opiate users face personal health consequences, they’re also costing taxpayers stacks of cash.

Erie County taxpayers have spent about $683,000 on mental health treatment for inmates — such as doctor’s visits, medication and hospitalization — from 2010 to 2012, according to a Register analysis of sheriff data.

State law requires jails to provide adequate care for all inmates.

“Short term, the jail is the place for these folks because they are a threat to the community because of their drug addictions or mental health issues,” Sigsworth said. “Long term, we have to figure out what we can do to avoid this”


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