Drug activity is spiking in Huron County, and law enforcementofficials say heroin use is a problem among young and old alike.
Norwalk has nearly tripled its drug investigations from 2002 to 2006, and drug arrests in the city are at a five-year high.
But with increased enforcement and awareness raised by community organizations, the number of heroin users may be on the decline, according to Huron County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board Director Jean King.
Law enforcement and public health officials agree there are no easy answers when it comes to treating drug addiction, but a collaboration of community resources may be yielding results when it comes to heroin.
Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services Director Karen Russell said her service population in fiscal year 2007 was 360 patients.
She said the 15 percent of those patients who are there for heroin or other opiate addiction is slightly down from last year.
Drug use among children is declining as well.
"All the work, all the intervention is having an impact," Russell said.
But the number of people being treated for marijuana and alcohol increased to 68 this year, Russell said.
Willard Police Sgt. Rick Sexton said he talks to addicts day in and day out, many of whom say they want help with their addiction.
He would like to see more treatment centers like Firelands open in his city, which is infamous among law enforcement for drug activity.
"Some of these people would like to be off of heroin, and maybe some clinics in Willard could help people get off this drug," he said.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Huron County continue to up the ante on drug enforcement.
Since February, Sexton has been forced to battle Willard's drug problem almost by himself.
The department lost officers last year to retirement and was forced to cut payroll due to budget constraints.
But thanks to a levy passed in April, it plans to hire at least three new officers before the end of the year.
"That's going to free up people working dope," Sexton said. "At least one other guy that's going to help me down here."
Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway estimates more than 50 percent of the county's current criminal cases are drug related, and half of those cases are heroin related.
Conway admits when it comes to sentencing for heroin offenses, incarceration is his most common choice.
He says that's not only to protect the public, but to protect the addict from himself or herself.
"I think certainly a period of incarceration with regard to drug addicts can serve a purpose of punishment and rehabilitation," he said. "Most addicts require a period of abstinence in a controlled environment to break their current addiction and keep them from relapsing. The best environment (where) we can control that is incarceration."
Law enforcement officers throughout the county are pleased with Conway's hardline approach to dealing with drug addicts.
"I think judge Conway's doing a very nice job," Norwalk police Det. Jim Fulton said. "He believes they have to be in jail for an extended period of time to get them off the addiction. The problem is people go right back to where they started from."