By David Ford
Throughout the Mahoning Valley, drugs such as heroin have attracted thousands of individuals due to availability and cost.
In 2015, authorities rounded up 37 people in Youngstown in connection to heroin trafficking. Youngstown and the rest of the Mahoning Valley have become a major area for drug consumption and distribution, especially heroin. The Mahoning Valley is home to the largest heroin overdose rate in the entire state of Ohio; a distinction that has tarnished the reputation of the area.
“Heroin is the most addictive substance out there,” said Peter Kontos, a judge for the Trumbull County Common Pleas. “Other drugs out there require multiple uses and several days and weeks to get on an addiction. The case with heroin is that most people get hooked on it as soon as they try it for the first time. In several cases, the heroin is laced with other drugs.”
The Mahoning Valley has seen a drastic surge in drug consumption, especially with heroin over the past two years. Since heroin is readily accessible, easy to transport in the area, as well as cost efficient, it has become an extremely popular drug of choice by users on the street.
Darryl Rodgers, the Drug Court coordinator for the Trumbull County Courthouse, said that the drug influence in Youngstown has given rise to a larger amount of people applying to drug court in Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. The drug court is open to those eligible who have been convicted of drug abuse.
“Most of the people that apply for drug court are addicted to either heroin or pain pills,” Rodgers said. “For the first seven years doing drug court, most of the applicants and participants were arrested with crack cocaine, but the last nine years has seen a huge rise in heroin and pain pill consumption.”
The drug court program requires its participants to complete an 18 month rehabilitation program, where they must practice full abstinence for six out of the 18 months. Among those accepted, only about 65 percent of them pass through the program, while the others who unfortunately slip up are sentenced to prison.
“In several cases, the addiction is so severe that the participant can’t complete the drug court program,” Rodgers said. “Addiction affects everyone around you. Parents, siblings, cousins, even kids are affected the most.”
Rodgers also stated that most of the applicants and participants are unemployed, low-income people who previously had arrests and trouble with the law. Those with severe criminal records or sexual offenses are not eligible for drug court participation. He also commented on the fact that more and more women are falling into severe drug addictions, raising the drug court program rate in Trumbull and Mahoning County to about 25 percent female. Almost all of the participants are from urban developments or inner cities, such as downtown Warren and Youngstown.
The drug court programs throughout the valley offer these people a second chance, and with the support of family and friends, many of these people can shake their addiction and get off to a fresh start. Several students at Youngstown State University said they had friends and family fall victim to a severe drug addiction.
Michael Baker, a business student at YSU, said that his cousin fell into a bad way with the wrong people.
“My cousin battled a severe drug addiction for years,” Baker said. “Several of his close friends passed away to a drug overdose. His addiction almost killed him as well.”
With the help of those around him, Michael’s cousin has since overcome his addiction, and moved away to Arizona for a fresh start, where he keeps in constant contact with those who helped him along the way.
The drug epidemic in the Mahoning Valley continues to be a grave issue, and will continue to as long as drugs, especially heroin, are readily accessible and cheap.