Children lose heroin war

Cheap on the streets, drug epidemic destroying families. First in a three-day Register series.
Andy Ouriel
Dec 15, 2013


Local officials blame heroin abuse as the reason why a record 100 children are in the current custody of Erie County Job and Family Services.

Area social workers are removing children from toxic home environments at unprecedented rates, and many of them will likely never be reunited with their families.    Social workers take children away from parents or guardians for numerous causes, but heroin’s the No. 1 reason today forcing these separations.

The H Factor
A special three-day Register series looking at the impact of the heroin epidemic in Erie County
TODAY: Smack — Children displaced by drug use.
MONDAY: Big H — Users crowd jail
TUESDAY: Brown Sugar — Mental health and addiction.

“Heroin is an addictive substance, it’s part of the problem and we are seeing it in extreme measures” said Karen Balconi Ghezzi, executive director at Erie County Job and Family Services. “The social workers are getting frustrated because there is a feeling of ‘we won’t be able to ever reunify these kids with their parents because of the fact that the parents are not able to get the treatment they need or are not committed to it’”

When social workers step in, they place youngsters in settings such as foster and group homes or a relative’s residence, among other safe environments.

State law dictates parents or guardians can have up to two years to clean up in hopes of regaining custody.

If not, then these children are stuck in environments without their parents or guardians until they reach 18.

Help wanted
Balconi Ghezzi recently pleaded with county commissioners, urging them to direct additional help into her department because of a surge in separations largely thanks to heroin abuse.

“It’s safe to say the majority of these cases that are open are based on heroin use,” Balconi Ghezzi said.

She wanted commissioners to understand:
• The county’s social worker caseload has collectively more than doubled from a year ago, from 47 cases in December 2012 to 100 today.

• Of the 79 separate ongoing custody cases, 30 are directly tied to either heroin or other opiate use.

• There’s only 18 social workers in the department, the same number as a year ago.

• The average boarding cost today to house these 100 children hovers around $135,000 to $140,000 per month. A year ago, the figure totaled $75,000 per month.

“The boarding cost would be much higher were it not for the fact that we have been able to find relative and kinship placements for 46 percent of the children” Balconi Ghezzi said.

•The department has spent $6,700 on drug screenings during 2013 related to the removal of children from their homes.

Almost half the people tested positive for an illegal substance.

Based on the evidence presented, commissioners seemed receptive to Balconi Ghezzi’s request.

“The commissioners are very concerned about the heroin problem that seems to be a top concern in Erie County, along with all the other drugs that are on the street,” Erie County commissioner Bill Monaghan said. “We are looking at the possibility of giving the department more resources”

By the numbers: Heroin impacting local children
• 100: Number of children currently in the custody of Erie County Job and Family Services — a record. Heroin’s the top contributing factor.

• $140,000: Average monthly boarding cost today to house these children in approved homes.

• 47: Number of children in the department’s custody this time one year ago.

• $75,000: Average monthly boarding cost one year ago.

Source: Erie County Job and Family Services

Deadly details
Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug quickly becoming the most abused of the opiates.
Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It’s typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as a black sticky substance.
Most street heroin is “cut” with other drugs or substances, such as sugar, starch and powdered milk. Heroin users are at risk of overdose or death.
The drug poses special problems because people can transmit HIV and other diseases by sharing needles or other injection equipment.

Heroin’s an epidemic impacting not just those in Erie County but all across the U.S.

• In 2011, 4.2 million Americans 12 or older — 1.6 percent of the total population — used heroin at least once in their lives.

•About 23 percent of people who have used heroin have become dependent on it. 

• Oftentimes, people abuse heroin after they get addicted to prescription medicine.

• As low as $5 per hit, heroin today is a relatively easy drug to find and obtain, Balconi Ghezzi said.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse



make it a attempted murder charges for dealers, no early parole ..... crack down HARD on dealers IF you really want the problem under control. Stop playing games with users. No plea bargains, no reduced charges. More than anyone else, it's the babies and children that are suffering.

All taken

I totally agree with you. This is to include small or big drug dealers. Crack down hard on even the smallest dealers to show them we mean business. I am a grandparent to children of a heroin user. It would not bother me one bit to see my own child on attempted murder charges. Not to be cold hearted but you(the dealer or user)should not have put yourself or your children in that position.

J. Hartman

Just a suggestion, I attended Operation: Street Smart last week in Cleveland conducted by an auxiliary officer from Franklin County who was also the FBI Columbus Office supervisor for their drug task force from 1995-2001. I would find a way to get him here as their funding has been cut and speaking engagements in 2014 will be limited. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable on the subject, but not even close! I was completely blown away by what I learned and found myself saying "Who the hell thinks of this" more than I can count. It would be a tremendous eye opener for parents, teachers, counselors, and anyone really.

Erie County Resident

In response to the quote here,
"• The average boarding cost today to house these 100 children hovers around $135,000 to $140,000 per month. A year ago, the figure totaled $75,000 per month.

“The boarding cost would be much higher were it not for the fact that we have been able to find relative and kinship placements for 46 percent of the children” Balconi Ghezzi said."

I'm calling Ghezzi's bluff on this one, this is all fine and dandy but means nothing because I have first hand knowledge of this incident and have reported it with no action being taken.

Mutiple children were taken from the addicted mother, the children were placed with the grandmother and a no contact order was placed in effect by the court.
Granny decided she would violate this order and allow the mother/addict to violate the court order also by letting the mother/addict move in with them so she could be with her kids again.
I reported this and NOTHING has been done by ODJFS.
So to me the "protection of the children" story is a huge joke in my eyes. Money seems to be the only real concern here, not the kids.

(Note to editor, feel free to give my info to Karen Balconi Ghezzi, if she even asks for it.)


You are right ECR! Group homes are paid well when foster homes are not. I believe there would be more foster families if ODJFS would get out of the way. Parenting is difficult enough without all the bull foster families have to deal with. If the child is living in my home I have a much better idea what the child needs. Money is the real issue here!

J. Hartman

Erie County Resident, if you have a chance contact me at 330-221-3090 after 6pm this evening.


J. Hartman, please elaborate on the quote[who the he!! thinks of this] I'm curious. I know we are unaware of so much about this subject. Thanks

J. Hartman

queenjhb, I will be more than happy to share all the information I brought back. Obviously in a 7 hour seminar only the tip of the ice berg was touched. There were many things that had me saying that and I was actually sitting next to the Grandmother from Robby's Voice who you can find information about on their website or search them on Channel 3's website if you prefer video, and she kept having the same comment. Mostly speaking of concealment here and the ease of making synthetic products that caused those repeated statements. Also was a lot of talk on how the opiates are over prescribed or given when some aspirin would have the same results when folks go to the ER. Just a ton of information and I wouldn't do it justice trying to explain on this format. If the SR wants, I can give them the extremely condensed book that was handed out and they can copy and share. It provides a very brief outline on the different drugs and issues such as concealment and household items kids are using that none of us would probably even think of being an issue. I tried to take great notes, but definitely not my forte. If you go to the Sandusky Crime Preventions Council's facebook page, you will find a list of websites recommended to visit and learn from that I posted last Monday while at the event. Again, I will share everything from that seminar and be more than happy for it to reach as many as possible. Same for you as I previously stated above, feel free to call my number anytime. I believe the more information shared, the more lives/families that can be saved. The bad guys are smart, actually scary smart and the more you can learn the better. S.M.I.L.E.


erie county res. a blind eye seems the norm w/ODJFS, but more money is not the answer .Do your job, follow up, its your responsibility ODJFS, its what you are paid to do.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Several of the "kids" (term used loosely as many are are adults) have been affected by drug ab/use in the home. If not by the drugs themselves then the crime surrounding it such as murder and robbery (or disease such as HIV that comes with it). I also know that there is a distrust of ECJ&FS by some of them, too for many reasons. Even in the face of clear abuse there has been a hesitancy despite prompting to call them.

This cascades into a whole host of questions and root cause research.

R U Kidding me

3.5 billion dollars was just allotted to fight this. Take this tax payers money and put some bad stuff on the market so these families have a chance to start over fresh. Let the scum cleanse them selves. They weren't thinking of there families when they tried this. so lets let them go. Im tired of working and paying on what I can not control


@ J. Hartman, I would be very interested in the information you have. As I have a daughter who is addicted. @ All taken, I agree with you completely, even if it's my own child .... charge them with attempted murder charges. I am also a grandmother to children of an addict. I've seen children services help in some cases and not in others. I know dealing with child services in Cleveland is impossible. Reporting abuse gets you treated like you're nothing but a thorn in their side and then they call the addict and tell them that you called and what you said.

White Owl

Why did the federal government allow Purdue Frederick pharmaceutical company the right to "educate" prescribers in the late 90's concerning prescribing of opiates for pain? Purdue Frederick was the maker of Oxy Contin and paid massive civil damages because the prescribing information they provided was false and misleading. However the company was not prosecuted criminally for creating the opiate addiction crisis.

Once people became hooked because of the ease of obtaining prescription opiates, the Bush administration allowed the nation to be flooded with Heroin by invading Afghanistan and eliminating the Taliban's suppression of the poppy crops. Addicts who could no longer afford the Rx drugs turned to the4 cheap and readily available heroin.

The increase of the international heroin trade funds International bankers (over 60% of all money exchanged has ties to narco dollars) and in turn generates an increase in government spending on drug interdiction and imprisonment to "treat" a problem the government created. In turn those problems create a need for more government jobs in Law enforcement. prisons, and keeps the courts busy so other issues are not addressed.

Imprisoning addicts is not the answer. Decriminalizing drugs and using the money saved from the unending "war on drugs" to develop treatment programs makes more sense. By decriminalizing drugs one also eliminates a huge funding source for organized crime.

The issue that has always baffled me is how does a country that is so technologically advanced militarily and in information gathering unable to intercept the drugs that enter the country? Obviously the government does not want to intercept the drug supply because the government ultimately is the supplier.


Bush not only confiscated the poppy fields. He had them harvested and brought to the U.S. If you research Freeway Ricky Ross, you will find out it's been going on for years. Our leaders are a joke, Democrat, Republican, whatever, all D-Bags!


"Imprisoning addicts is not the answer. Decriminalizing drugs and using the money saved from the unending "war on drugs" to develop treatment programs makes more sense. By decriminalizing drugs one also eliminates a huge funding source for organized crime."

"Obviously the government does not want to intercept the drug supply because the government ultimately is the supplier."



"Obviously the government does not want to intercept the drug supply because the government ultimately is the supplier."

Research Iran-Contra
"The CIA, Paul told a gathering of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was involved in trafficking drugs as part of the Iran-Contra debacle."
"he L.A. Weekly has a fascinating piece concerning the late Gary Webb, the brilliant investigative reporter whose life and career were ruined when the establishment media of the time joined with the government to discredit a series he'd written about the involvement of the CIA in drug-running operations in alliance with the guerrilla forces the United States was backing in Central America in the 1980s."

The murder of investigative reporter Gary Webb was ruled a suicide.
"SACRAMENTO, CA) – Investigative reporting is not for the faint hearted. Gary Webb, an excellent investigative reporter, was dead eight years on December 10, 2012. Webb’s death from two gun shots wounds to the head was ruled a suicide by Sacramento County coroner Robert Lyons."

"The Department of Defense labeled Colonel Sabow’s death a suicide, despite the overwhelming evidence of murder. An independent investigation by Dr. David Sabow, his younger brother, and a court recognized forensic neurologist, and other independent medical experts and scientists, support homicide as the cause of death."

J. Hartman

To add to that, Mexico is not our drug problem as one would be encouraged to believe. America however, is Mexico's drug problem. Think about that for a second. If the demand from the states wasn't so high, those cartels are probably still in business, but not as funded as they are currently.

J. Hartman

Mommy25, same offer is there. My phone is always on 330-221-3090 or if you misplace it, it can also be found on the Sandusky Crime Prevention Council's facebook page. Not saying I will have the exact answer you are looking for and some questions could possibly be a law enforcement question depending on the nature of the question. In those cases I would direct you straight to SPD. However, if you have a situation where you are trying to find help for someone, I can give you those numbers. I DO WANT TO STRESS, I AM NOT A COUNSELOR, LAWYER, DOCTOR, OR LAW ENFORCEMENT! So, I can't tell you what to do, but I can direct you in the right direction! There are many people/organizations who are willing to help. As with everything, education is the key! The more any of us can learn and share with others, the better we will all be prepared if faced with a situation. R U Kidding me, not sure what the picture in your mind is when you say let the "scum cleanse themselves" but you do understand the person in the alley with a needle in their arm is not reality, right? It's the rich kid, it's the star athlete, it's the 4.0 student, hell it might even be the doctor you go to when you're sick! Many of these people do seek help, but either we don't pay attention to there attempts to get help or we chose to pretend they don't have a problem. Fact is there are issues and they come from many directions. Yes, the individual does need to want the help and the individual also has to put in the effort. What I will stress to everyone who either a loved one has an issue or you personally have an issue, is love! You stress love to those who need help and you as well need to understand it's the drug NOT the person people hate. Again, stress love and just maybe some people would feel more comfortable reaching out for help. This isn't isolated to one street, one factor, but it plays a role in all our lives whether you think it does or not and it most certainly does effect you. Again, stress education and love!

red white and blue

I lost two friends too thid drug I also have my child full time because there mom went down this path we need drug task force back in erie county and hold these doctors responsible. We also need a better judge then obrien and a better prosecutor than baxter nice guys but way to forgiving this county like so many others is going down

J. Hartman

red white and blue, first of all I apologize for the losses and prayers are sent. I also commend you for gaining full custody of your child and pray their Mom gets the help she needs to one day be able to enjoy her child as he/she grows into adulthood. I would ask though if you would be willing to help "Break the Silence"? I understand it might be something tough to do, but people like yourself who have been there and understand how the drug can destroy a family is what people need to hear. It effects everyone! If not comfortable in this format, please send me any questions or suggestions and I will do my best to answer as I can. Also, there are many folks out there you can reach out to for help if needed for loved ones. Joey Supina at the Sandusky Artisans Community Outreach Center, Tondra Frisby runs the S.T.E.P. program out of the Nehemiah Center, Dr. Halliday with the Erie/Ottawa Counties Mental Heath Board, Karen Russell out of Firelands, and Bay Shore Counseling are just a few folks to contact. I apologize as I do not have those numbers handy right at this moment, but can get you all those and others if needed. Again, I encourage to be vocal as it's people such as yourself who can make a difference because you speak from experience and I also commend you for sharing. S.M.I.L.E.

red white and blue

J.hartman I do wish also that she gets help I really do a mother is the most important parent in a child's life! There is a bond that a fathers love can not compare to .unfortunately I have a restaining order as I can not handle her sparatick behavior. I've tried the court system I've tried pleading with her parents I've even tried other out reach programs but no one can make a parent be a parent its sad but it is what it is.

red white and blue

This happened allmost 6 years ago I have since moved on and life is great I do however for my child's sake hope someday she will get it together before its to late

J. Hartman

Wow, I appreciate your honesty red white and blue and I also commend you for what you have done and the words you shared in regards to the Mother. You are correct, unfortunately I'm not a father, but the fact you understand the role and the importance of having the Mother involved is absolutely awesome! I know several in similar situations as your own and I can tell you with out hesitation, that they would probably not give the same answer. I will say this however, you have moved on and that is great! I again think its great you realize the importance of your child having the mother in their life as well. She may not be in your everyday life today, but she will always be a part of it. Don't give up on her being a great mother. Your current situation may not think kindly of you taking interest in the well being of an ex, but I'm pretty certain your kid will thank you later.

Simple Enough II

I've seen some of these pill and heroin users are they even salvgeable?

J. Hartman

Going to be straight forward with you Simple Enough II, that was an assanine question and statement!

J. Hartman

Thank You for providing that contact. Tell your boss to stop being a stranger!

J. Hartman

Thank You for providing that contact. Tell your boss to stop being a stranger!

Whiskey Tango F...

There was an earlier comment regarding physicians and prescribing pain meds. Please consider that their performance reviews and paychecks are tied DIRECTLY to patient surveys. Many people go to the local E.R.'s and clinics looking for pills. When they are turned away, you can guess what the anonymous survey says. These docs are punished by management by practicing good medicine. I won't side with either for right and wrong, but the system is broken with no clear solution. Methadone is prescription Heroin. Many start on a "buddy's" script, and turn to heroin due to price and availability. With friends like that, who needs enemies.

J. Hartman

Very much on point Whiskey Tango! I know there are some people trying to address the issue you have mentioned, but not something that will be accomplished over night. Some of those individuals are physicians as well and they understand they can be part of a solution. I pray, as I know many do, that the physician issue can be addressed sooner than later or at least something be put in place as a starting point. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, not a cure for the epidemic called money.