Ohio troopers report big increase in seized heroin this year


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio troopers seized about seven times as much heroin during the first half of 2016 as they did during the same period last year, an increase that the State Highway Patrol attributes at least in part to several large drug busts.

The patrol seized over 53 kilograms of heroin with an estimated value of nearly $8 million from January through June, according to its preliminary data.

In one case from late June, troopers found 6 kilos of heroin and a half-pound of cocaine in a sport utility vehicle that was stopped for speeding on Interstate 76 near Akron, leading to charges against a Canton driver and a California man riding with him.

The rise in heroin seizures comes amid other signs that Ohio’s opiate-related problems continue to grow. On Thursday, state leaders announced that a committee will study drug-use prevention education in Ohio schools with orders to come back in three months with recommendations for programs for all grades.

Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, saw 15 overdose deaths in a recent three-day span that were attributed to heroin, the synthetic opiate fentanyl or a combination of those.

Earlier this summer, a narcotics-detection dog helped U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers in Cincinnati seize over 10 pounds of heroin stashed in candles in a shipment of “praying items” headed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Ontario, Canada.

And in Columbus, Franklin County coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz just launched an Opiate Crisis Task Force aimed at connecting and coordinating community resources to improve treatment, education, and police and legislative approaches on dealing with the drug problem. Ortiz said about half of Franklin County’s overdose deaths in the past two years were heroin-related, and preliminary information indicates the numbers could be even higher for 2016.

At the panel’s first meeting, speakers agreed it’s an issue that requires community collaboration and can’t be solved simply through arrests.

“Having that flexibility and that open mind to change what our already-existing practices are is the only way that we’re really going to solve this problem,” said Chief Deputy Rick Minerd of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

Anamaria Perales-Lang, a Marengo resident whose 26-year-old stepson died after overdosing in 2014, said the creation of such panels around Ohio and the discussions they’re having give her hope that collaborators can make real headway in helping addicts and preventing more. She said she didn’t talk about her family’s experience for a long time, partially out of embarrassment, but has learned it’s more common than she thought.

“When you say it out loud,” Perales-Lang said, “somebody’s always going to say, ‘That happened to me.’”

By Kantele Franko

Associated Press

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