Countless attractions — roller coasters, water parks, boating and island life, among many others — lure about 7 million people to Erie and Ottawa counties each year.
But mental health officials label the area as a hotbed for heroin abuse.
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.
MONDAY: Big H — Users crowd jail
TODAY: Brown Sugar — Mental health and addiction.
Heroin’s considered a “highly available” drug anywhere along the North Coast, according to a recent study by officials from the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties.
In fact, about 150 clients requesting board services this past year divulged using heroin, opiates or some other synthetic drug — a record amount in the region.
“This is the highest I have ever seen,” said Kirk Halliday, the board’s executive director.
Among other information provided in a year-end board report:
• Heroin ranked a “10” on an 11-point scale of how available it is on the streets of Erie and Ottawa counties. A “10” means “easy” and a “0” translates to “impossible”
• About 1.3 Erie County residents per 100,000 people died from heroin poisoning in 2011.
No cases of heroin poisoning occurred in Erie County from 2002 to 2010.
• About 2.4 Ottawa County residents per 100,000 people died from heroin poisoning in 2011.
No area facility nor local hospital specializes in treating people with alcohol or serious drug addictions, including heroin, Halliday said.
Therefore, it’s tougher to battle addictions and keep people sober.
“The lack of an addiction treatment center in Erie or Ottawa counties is problematic,” Halliday said. “The real difficulty is not getting someone into a residential setting. What happens, after they leave a center, they pick up on their old activities and learn new habits that make the difference of a person not being able to kick the heroin addiction”
Despite the lack of regional specialized facilities, there’s an obvious need for them.
Among the local residents advocating for centers and education on heroin abuse is Vermilion resident Melva Sherwood.
Her son, Andrew Weaver, died in October 2012 at age 27 from a heroin overdose.
Since then, she’s spearheaded a grassroots effort to comfort other mothers losing children to heroin addictions.
She also wants to open a community center, where family members of addicts can meet and receive help or vent about someone they love who’s suffering from an addiction.
“Our kids are dying,” Sherwood said. “We need to help people that are addicts so they can recover. They’re not criminals. They’re not the pits of our society. They are human beings, and they need to be treated as such”
By the numbers: Heroin impacting Erie and Ottawa counties’ mental health communities
• 150: Clients receiving services from this past year who used heroin or some other opiate or synthetic drug — a record.
• 10: Rating — on a 10-point scale, with “10” being “easy” and “0” as “impossible” — of how available heroin, opiates and synthetic drugs are in Erie and Ottawa counties, according to a recent study.
• 1.3: Erie County residents dying, per 100,000 people, from heroin poisoning in 2011 — a record.
• 2.4: Ottawa County residents dying, per 100,000 people, from heroin poisoning in 2011 — a record.
Source: Mental Health and Recovery Board of Erie and Ottawa Counties