Drug epidemic – By Jasmine Cupp

We cannot arrest our way out of this

“In my 34 years in law enforcement I have never seen anything like this heroin and opiate addiction,” said Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick at the Community Substance Abuse Awareness Forum Sunday, October 23, at Oak Harbor High School.

Speaking on the panel at the forum were: Ottawa County Commissioner and first responder Mark Stahl, Ottawa County Sheriff Steve Levorchick, Ottawa County Prosecutor Mark Mulligan, Ottawa County Drug Court Administrator James VanEerten, Ottawa County Drug Task Force officer Joel Barton, Ottawa County Coroner and physician Dr. Daniel Cadigan, and recovering addicts Erika Warren and Nate Kehlmeier.

“People addicted aren’t your typical junkies; it affects every walk of life,” said Levorchick. “As your sheriff, our law enforcement community will do everything we can to support those in the community who want to succeed. We have to do this as a community.”

“This isn’t a problem, it’s an epidemic,” said Levorchick. “As Joel Barton on the Ottawa County Drug Task Force has said, we can’t arrest our way out of this.”

Joel Barton served 20 years in law enforcement and has focused his career on drug enforcement. He started in the Port Clinton Police Department and has served on the Ottawa County Drug Task Force for the last four years.

“Just because you’re an addict doesn’t mean you’re a bad person,” said Barton. “Take the drugs out of the equation and they’re normal people. It’s the drugs that do bad things.

Barton gave a background of the history that may have helped create the national drug problem that we face today.

“In 1996, Purdue Pharmaceuticals made Oxycotin. From 1996-2003 some people using Oxycotin turned into addicts. In 2003 we started seeing problems nationally. In 2003-2012 there was a crackdown on doctors over-prescribing drugs. Pills became harder to get. A 30mg Oxycotin was $30 a pill. All of a sudden all these people on opiates had no way to get pills,” said Barton. “These people turned to heroin.”

“I have been a police officer for 20 years and the stories of the two recovering addicts we have here today have moved me,” said Barton. “We have to get before the story, before everything spirals out of control.”

“There is still a strong perception that this is a small problem,” said Ottawa County Coroner Dr. Daniel Cadigan. “There is a perception that it can’t happen to me. Educating people about this is where it has to start. As a society, we think we have a right to not be in pain. In 1997 the state said that we as physicians were not prescribing enough medicine for pain; not to say pain shouldn’t be treated by opiates, but it should be a last resort.”

“Statistically we have just as big of a problem as bigger cities in Ohio,” said Cadigan. “Ottawa County residents that die out of the county don’t get counted so the numbers are higher than reported.”

Cadigan then read the age and gender of those Ottawa County residents that have died this year due to Oxycotin, heroin and cocaine overdoses:

  • 31 year old female
  • 62 year old female
  • 38 year old female
  • 50 year old female
  • 57 year old male
  • 50 year old female
  • 24 year old female
  • 47 year old male
  • 48 year old male
  • 31 year old male
  • 59 year old male
  • 24 year old female
  • 56 year old male

“In 2014 and 2015 we averaged 3-4 people a year dying of overdose in our county,” said Cadigan. “This year so far we have 13. Another 15 were saved because of Narcan.”

“The 24 year old female that I mentioned was an Oak Harbor High School graduate. She overdosed and her father found her at home. What brought this home for me was the ambulance driver came in and said, “Oh my god, this girl was in my 4H class!” Seven years ago she was showing animals at the fair and now she is here. These are everyday people,” said Cadigan.

Erika Warren grew up in Woodville and has been in long term recovery from addiction since January 16, 2013.

“My childhood wasn’t bad, but I felt like I didn’t fit in and that I wasn’t good enough,” said Warren. “Once I was in high school I started partying. I started by drinking and smoking weed. I liked how it made me feel. I tried a Percocet at a party and it felt like heaven. I felt like a hole in my heart had been filled.”

“I’ve been in places I never in a million years thought I would go. I was that person at a family function that you would hide your purse from,” said Warren. “At 21 I tried heroin. It was strong and cheap. If it wasn’t for my parents reaching out and calling the cops on January 16 I wouldn’t be here; it saved my life. It changed my life.”

“When I was in the Sandusky County jail an officer said that I was a threat to the community. I didn’t see how my addiction was effecting other people. I was an STNA and stole from the elderly. When I got to jail I had one call and I called my mom and she said she wasn’t going to bail me out. There I sat. The drugs and alcohol were gone and I was left with me. I had to cope with being sober.”

“During sentencing the judge looked at me in the face and told me I was a monster and didn’t belong in the community,” Warren took a breath and a break as tears streamed down her face. “I was sentenced to prison. The two people supporting me were the two people I hurt the most; my parents. I know when I got out and used it would be to die. Not all cops are bad, they just want what’s best for you. My two arresting officers are now two of my biggest advocates.”

“I go around and speak out to help other people. I get it. I was embarrassed, but now I don’t do that. I have used this experience to be better,” said Warren. “If you’re scared to reach out and call the cops on your children don’t be. I know they (law enforcement) say they can’t arrest themselves out of this problem, but that call saved my life.”

A video of Nate Kehlmeier’s talk and more about this topic can be seen online at thebeacon.net.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, here are some places you can reach out to:

  • Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services in Ottawa County 419-734-2942
  • Bayshore Counseling Services 419-734-5535
  • Mental Health and Recovery Board Erie and Ottawa Counties mhrbeo.org
  • Crisis hotline 800-826-1306