Brianna Green was a 22 year-old Ada resident, a mother of one and a daughter of two. She was formerly a resident of Lima before moving to Ada, and on December 30th, 2015 at approximately 7:39 a.m., she was found unresponsive in her E Lehr Ave. home.
Heroin had claimed another victim.
Within a 16-day span at the start of the new year, two heroin overdoses occurred in Ada. The first (Green’s) resulted in death, while the second did not.
And although no charges of heroin possession have been made this year so far by the Ada Police Department, Police Chief Mike Harnishfeger believes that the nationwide issue of heroin addiction includes Hardin County as well.
“[Heroin] is in every county in the state, and from what I’ve heard, every state in the nation. It’s really an epidemic,” Harnishfeger said. “The major hub for heroin, coming to our part of the state, is Columbus, Ohio.”
Authorities estimate that there are now between 435,000 and 1.5 million heroin users in the United States, and last summer the CDC released reports showing that nationwide heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2002-2013. In that time period, heroin usage increased by 63% across the country.
This recent spike in heroin abuse has been caused by many factors. For most users, heroin is the next step up from opiate painkillers; it gives them a better high, and is usually cheaper, as it is sold for as little as $10 in some communities. When the government recently decided to crack down on painkiller abuse, heroin became an outlet for opiate addicts.
“A person gets on heroin because it’s cheaper than prescription medication and it’s easier to get,” Harnishfeger said. “A lot of people, especially those who are opiate-dependent, find that doctors won’t give the prescription anymore, or the prescription is too costly, and they turn to heroin.”
Fortunately for the people of Ada, the police department now has a antidote that could potentially prevent future overdoses.
In February, The Ohio Health Department granted the Ada Police Department with a supply of Naloxone, which is reportedly replenishable as needed, and “as long as the funds allow.” Naloxone, known more commonly as “Narcan,” is an overdose relief drug that can potentially halt overdoses while they are occurring.
“An overdose puts receptors in the brain that tell the body not to breathe. So this drug, which we administer through the nose, unblocks those receptors and gets the body to breathe again,” Harnishfeger said. “It really is an easy process, for the Narcan to release the brain to allow the body to breathe. It gives us the ability to intercede and do something to save a life.”
The police department was granted three kits of the Narcan, with two doses in each kit, as more than one dose may be needed to cure a victim. Harnishfeger says that all officers now carry Narcan in their cruisers and all are trained to use it.
While this may be a way for local police to occasionally stop the bleeding, Narcan will not fix the large-scale heroin problem.
There is controversial legislation pending at the Senate level right now in Ohio, which would increase the chance of jail time for lower-level heroin offenders. House Bill 171 would lower the amount of heroin necessary to be considered a “major drug offender” from 250 to 100 grams, which would have serious legal implications. There is currently a mandatory 11-year prison sentence required for those charged with 250 grams or more (labeled “major drug offenders”).
This bill is controversial because it raises the question: Is incarceration the answer to today’s heroin epidemic? Many believe that actual treatment and rehabilitation is more effective, but there are also those who feel as if prison time is the only way to get the point across.
Judge Scott N. Barrett, of the Hardin County Common Pleas Court, has served on the bench for three years and has seen the recent spike in heroin abuse firsthand. He believes in the power of treatment as a way to fix the problem, but also knows that every case is circumstantial. For some, treatment might not get the message across clearly enough.
“The vast majority of people that we send to prison have gone through some level of treatment. Very rarely is that not the case. We do everything we can to get people into treatment,” Barrett said. “However, I have no problem considering incarceration to be a treatment modality if I feel like it will get them to pay attention.”
Harnishfeger believes that treatment should be prioritized as a way to treat low-level abusers as well, and that dealers should not be treated the same (in court) as users.
“I think that those people that are pushing the drug need to go to prison, and I think those people that are taking the drug need to spend some time in a facility, but they need help, too,” Harnishfeger said. “There’s a lot of people that have become addicted through the process of prescription drugs, and they need help. They need counseling, they need different social programs to assist them in getting off of the drug. But there’s no doubt that there’s an enforcement leg to this as well.”
As heroin use rises and methods of solving the epidemic circulate, there is also an element of personal responsibility that plays into solving the problem. For Barrett, who has seen many abusers come and go in his time on the bench, sometimes it simply boils down to old-fashioned will power.
“Our society encourages people to look for an easy way out,” Barrett said. “It’s a lot of hard work, depending on how serious the addiction is. But the person has to want to recover.”