The Valley's heroin epidemic - Part #2 Prevention - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

The Valley's heroin epidemic - Part #2 Prevention

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - It's an addiction so powerful, people are literally dying for a heroin high.

They're snorting it, shooting it and getting strung out on it. Addicts contend they're unable to function without the drug, because the withdrawals are so debilitating. It's called being "dope sick."

Recovering addict, Alexis Norman is 20-months sober and remembers that horrible feeling, "It was 10 times worse than the flu because it would not go away. I wasn't just sick, it wouldn't go away until I got my next drug."

For Norman, it was Mahoning County's Drug Court and T.A.S.C., also known as, Treatment Alternatives to Street Crimes, that gave her a second chance. After successfully completing the program, her record was cleared of a non-violent felony charge related to her heroin addiction.

"Judge Durkin is amazing. He's compassionate, he cares about the people that are in drug court. There's a lot of people down at T.A.S.C. that saved my life, the first time, and this time, and I'm so grateful," Norman said.

Even if you are not considered a candidate for Mahoning County's Drug Court, there is treatment for heroin and opiate addiction available in the Valley.

Unfortunately, it's the working middle-class with insurance that can't afford the cost of the treatment if their insurance won't cover it.

The number of in-patient beds for treatment in the entire tri-county area, are limited to just 16 beds for adult males, 16 for adult females, and 16 for boys up to the age of 22. There is no place designated for in-patient treatment of adolescent girls.

Danielle Procopio's brother, Dennis Howells, died of an overdose in June, now along with her mother, Anna Howells, they're working to make sure others suffering the pain of addiction get the help they need.

"A lot of times people have to wait two and three days to get them into a bed for detox, whether it's here locally or in the Cleveland area, and those 2 or 3 days can be tragic for some families," Procopio said.

There's also help in the way of using "medication assisted therapy," including methadone, a drug that controversial to some because of it's own addictive qualities. But Dr. Dan Brown of Meridian Services says methadone is an effective form of treatment, along with a 12-step program and other therapy.

"Here at Meridian, patients with a long-term history of heroin use often come in with severe withdrawal symptoms, if they're given methadone it's used to block the symptoms of withdrawal," Dr. Brown said.

Suboxone, like methadone, is also used to minimize withdrawal symptoms in heroin and prescription pain meds.

But Meridian warns those in need of help to question any Suboxone or Methadone clinic that will only accept cash, and not offer any other form of treatment with it.

When it comes to battling this deadly addiction, law enforcement is continually working to cut-off the heroin pipeline, and arrest the dealers and couriers of the deadly drug at every level.

Unfortunately however, there's always a dealer to pick-up where another left off.

So prosecutors are now taking steps to prosecute those responsible for heroin deaths, when they can identify them.

Marty Desmond is Mahoning County's Assistant Prosecutor working with the Drug Task Force, "By going after the drug dealers that provide the drugs that led to overdoses, we've had some success. I know Trumbull County is following our lead, and doing the same."

However, one thing is clear, the Valley can't arrest it's way out of this heroin epidemic. That's why education and prevention could ultimately be a lifeline.

Officer Bob Patton, a Youngstown Police Officer with 22 years of narcotics investigative experience works for Mahoning Valley's Drug Task Force, "Educate young kids not to be afraid, but to be aware of what can happen, what will happen."

On Thursday, 21 News will continue it's special report on the "Heroin Epidemic" by traveling to Cleveland for a "Heroin Summit" that will address overdose death prevention, treatment, and education. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Steven Dettlebach will be there, as well as Mike DeWine, Ohio's Attorney General and Toby Cosgrove, the CEO & President of the Cleveland Clinic.

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