DARKE COUNTY - “You can no longer say it’s not my problem. ”
That was the sentiment Investigator Joe VanVickle of the Darke County Coroner’s Office reached after considering Darke County’s heroin epidemic and its effect on the community.
Since 2007, the county has witnessed 15 accidental heroin overdose deaths, and the dangerous narcotic has made up 75 percent of Darke County’s drug overdose deaths in the last two years.
However, the costs of drug addiction can’t only be calculated in lives lost. The effect can extend far beyond, affecting the community’s theft rates, property values, civic pride or even the loss of a family members.
Chances are, most residents have been affected by drug addiction in some way, says the Darke County Sheriff’s Office.
“No one realizes how big of a problem it is in Darke County,” Sgt. Chris Clark of the Darke County Sheriff’s Office said.
As with many drugs, heroin abuse not only leads to physiological impairments, but often a drastic change in behavior which leads to unemployment, mental health issues and possibly child neglect.
“The ones I run across, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the next high,” said Sgt. Clark.
Because of the reckless side effects caused, VanVickle speculated that the average life span of an opiate addict doesn’t extend longer than 10 years from when they picked up their habit.
Addiction can begin with any abusable substance, but the Darke County Sheriff’s Office has primarily witnessed a transition from prescription painkiller abuse to heroin.
“Heroin is so much more readily available. It’s taken the place of prescription drugs,” said VanVickle, who watched the quick progression to the cheaper, volatile opiate.
Prescription abuse naturally led to heroin after the national crackdown drove up prices and dried up availability, and investigators estimate more than 65 percent of local heroin users had previously abused prescription drugs.
But once you’re hooked, the addiction is nearly impossible to break.
Sgt. Clark has even spoken to one parent who tries to quit, but after going through severe withdrawal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headaches, and sweats, she returns to heroin so she can function.
“She feels that she can’t take care of her kids that way so she goes back to heroin to get that high again,” said Sgt. Clark. “And then she feels like she has control of her life. But she doesn’t.”
Parents addicted to heroin have a higher likelihood of leaving their child unattended, either by leaving the house to procure more drugs, or by passing out from their high.
“Their whole lifestyle is affected. You don’t necessarily have their parents sitting over them and helping with their homework,” said VanVickle. “There’s things that are neglected, and it’s a gradual onset.
According to Sgt. Clark, this is not an uncommon scenario.
Unfortunately, those children also have a high risk of becoming the next generation of substance abusers.
“What I see is the decline in their care, their hygiene and eventually their rights and wrongs. It has a dramatic effect on children,” said VanVickle.
In some extreme cases, Sgt. Clark has experienced children buying heroin along with their parents, and even helping to inject them.
“The whole family. You just can’t get them to stop,” said Sgt. Clark. “They’re so addicted to it.”
“I think in a lot cases their parents cared at one time until the addiction grabbed them. They don’t want their children getting into that. But unfortunately when they’re under the influence everything is clouded,” said VanVickle.
The family environment is often a main contributor of many user’s addiction, as the drugs are right there when they come home.
“They’ll get busted, get off of it, and get out. They’ve been off of the heroin for a week, but now someone else is doing it. So they fall right back into the cycle again,” said Sgt. Clark.
One of the largest impediments to tackling the drug addiction problem in the county is the lack of local in-patient treatment options.
“The addict has no place to go, because we don’t have in-patient treatment facilities,” said VanVickle. “We don’t have a never-ending treatment facility. And that’s what it takes to break this. It’s not just one shot. There’s not just a single prescription out there to treat a drug a drug addict. It’s a multitude of interventions and it’s long-term.”
Darke County does not currently offer in-patient treatment, however Darke County Recovery Services offers many programs which range from eight to 27 week programs with varying visit rates.
Outside treatment programs are available in other regions, however the locations have declined in number over the past 10 years, and insurance may not cover the cost, according to Cynthia Cook, Clinical Supervisor of Darke County Recovery Services. On top of that, local halfway homes have long waiting lists.
“For the past 10 years, we have a seen a reduction in funding for things like addiction,” said Cook. “And I can’t understand why, because when you see the funding done you see a rise in crime rates.”
Darke County Recovery Services offers assistance regardless of employment or finances, because they know that for many, it’s a life and death issue.
“We don’t ever want money to be a reason why someone can’t get help,” said Cook. “It’s a disease and illness, and it’s killing people left and right.”
Even so, most drug addicts have to reach bottom before they get serious about long-term treatment.
“It’s an accumulative process. Enough consequences and pain has to happen in your life where the pain outweighs the pleasure they get from the drug. Suddenly they associate the pain with the drug, and then they can back up,” said Cook
And even then, long-term intensive programs may not be the end solution, as a majority of users will go back to their old habits.
“The treatment options don’t always work. It needs to be a lifetime commitment,” said VanVickle.
To combat the issue from a law enforcement standpoint, the Darke County Sheriff’s Office is targeting higher level dealers who are coming to Darke County from either Dayton or Richmond. And they’re actively developing programs to educate local children about the perils of drug addiction and building up their presence in schools.
However, the heroin epidemic will only stop as each makes a personal decision to stop using and to change their lives for the better.
“In order to put the dealer out of business, you have to interrupt the demand,” said VanVickle.