STEUBENVILLE - Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Tuesday afternoon Ohio is facing a heroin epidemic and asked area law enforcement officials, social workers and community leaders for help in finding an answer to the growing drug problem.
The 90-minute roundtable discussion at the Eastern Gateway Community College Pugliese Center was the ninth drug abuse community forum hosted this year by DeWine, who said 900 people died from drug overdoses in Ohio in 2013.
"We have a huge heroin problem in Ohio. It is truly epidemic. I am here to share ideas and to hear what people have to say in this community. We cannot arrest our way out of the heroin problem. We need people to take ownership of the community. We have to encourage people to get involved," DeWine said.
HEROIN DISCUSSION — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, right, asked for ideas from a panel of local leaders Tuesday afternoon during a roundtable discussion aimed at addressing a growing heroin problem in Jefferson County. Taking part in the discussion were, from left, Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin, Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge David Henderson, Jefferson Behavioral Health System Drug/Alcohol Administrator Kim Vich, Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla and Steubenville Police Chief Bill McCafferty. — Dave Gossett
DeWine said communities need to look at "treatment, education and prevention."
"Twenty years ago when I met with school children, no one knew anyone on drugs. Last year, when I met with the school kids about 20 to 30 hands went up when I asked if they knew anyone doing drugs. They said mommy was doing drugs or daddy was smoking marijuana. I am telling these kids that drugs will kill you and then they go home and mommy and daddy are doing drugs. But we have to keep our shoulders to the wheel. Just last night a 43-year-old man died of a heroin overdose," stated Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.
Jefferson Behavioral Health System Drug/Alcohol Administrator Kim Vich said her agency is starting to see success in treating drug addicts.
"Our staff is sometimes overloaded, but we want to expand our services to the youth. We now have offices on Fourth Street and, just last week, we had a heroin addict walk in off the street and ask for help," said Vich.
According to Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin, "people don't think they will try heroin. Four out of five addicts started with prescription painkillers. They take the pills orally and maybe start crushing them and snorting them. Then they move on to heroin. It is important for parents to look for the signs in their children and for children to look for signs in their parents."
"There is a very distinct difference between users and sellers. There is an unbelievable profit from selling heroin. We need to treat the users and get the sellers out of our community. Most of the sellers are from the Chicago area," said Jane Hanlin.
Jefferson County Drug Task Force Detective Jason Hanlin told an audience that included law enforcement personnel and residents an average day for a heroin addict starts at 8 a.m., "when they wake up feeling sick and needing a fix."
"They are out trying to steal something by 9 a.m. and then heading to a scrapyard or a pawn shop. By 10 a.m. they are buying heroin. You can find them in public parking lots where they shoot up. A gram of heroin sells for about $100 in Chicago but the same gram sells for $500 in Steubenville. That's why the sellers are coming here. As long as we have addicts coming to Jefferson County we are going to have our hands full," explained Jason Hanlin.
"It is important to report anything odd you may see. If it is odd or unusual, make a call to the police. If you don't call me I may not know about a problem, We now have sellers in public parking lots serving five or six different cars at one time," noted Jason Hanlin.
The audience also heard Ohio Assistant Attorney General Robert Fiatal discuss the Safe Neighborhood Initiative started earlier this year in Steubenville.
"We had a meeting with young men who are prone to be violent and told them law enforcement knows who they are. We told them the violence has to stop. There is too much grief in the community. We will give them a hand with training, education and life skills. But if they persist with the gun violence, they will be of special interest to law enforcement agencies along with their associates. If they pull the trigger we will take a close look at them," said Fiatal.
"Since that meeting six weeks ago there has been no gun violence in the community. It is too early to tell where we are going. But, we will have another meeting," added Fiatal.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, also attended the discussion and said the community is moving in the right direction.
"Every time I come to Steubenville I am encouraged by the engagement of the community. We all want to be a part of this," Johnson said.
DeWine also heard from city resident Fred Walsh, who told the attorney general, "Your pep talk was wonderful. You should be on television. It is easy to stand here and say what is wrong with this city. With all due respect, you dragged this city through the mud with that trial and grand jury. When you leave here, it will be up to Jane Hanlin and these guys here in this room to defend this city. You will leave here and we are still here.
"We need to let local law enforcement turn their dogs loose. We had a problem with a federal consent decree because our police were supposedly rousting criminals. But we are truly at war in this community. I hear the gunshots in my neighborhood," continued Walsh.
"We don't need armed citizens. I don't think the notion of gathering more guns to protect ourselves is the answer. I believe in miracles, and they do happen," responded Michael Thomas who had talked earlier about his son being fatally stabbed by his friend.
Abdalla said help is needed from the African-American ministers in Steubenville.
"We are also preparing to team up again with the city police and the Ohio State Highway Patrol to go into the areas where there are drugs being sold and there is violence. The last time we did that the shootings dissipated somewhat. We will team up again this summer," pledged Abdalla.
Clarissa Speaker of the Outreach Ministry urged the audience, "to bring God back to the community."
"If hearts are not changed, nothing will change. I believe in this community. Turn peoples' hearts back to God," said Speaker.
"The problems in Steubenville and Jefferson County are not unique to your community," said DeWine. "There are a lot of good things going on in Jefferson County. Keep talking about solutions and keep working together. And, we in the attorney general's office will do what we can."