Heroin problem comes down to price, mobility


Heroin is cheap and it moves fast.

It's easier to score a $5 hit of heroin than a $100 pill, which is why both usage and overdoses seem to be increasing, officials told a room of about 36 people today at the Eleanor Kahle Senior Center in West Toledo.

The group was gathered for a Block Watch meeting, hosted by Tina Scott, leader of the Willys Parkway-area group, which covers from Jackman Road to Haverhill Drive between Hillcrest and West Sylvania avenues.

Ms. Scott said more than 1,200 flyers were passed out in the neighborhood leading up to the meeting.

"People are dying from it," Ms. Scott said when asked why she picked heroin as the two-hour meeting's focus.

Toledo fire Lt. Jamie Furgeson cautioned the crowd to not be dismissive of the growing drug problem, which doesn't only affect Toledo, but the surrounding communities.

"If you don't think it's in your neighborhood, you're mistaken," the lieutenant said. "It's everywhere."

A Toledo police vice sergeant who declined to be identified because he works undercover said police are "behind the eight ball on this."

Part of the problem, he said, is trying to catch up to a drug that is "mobile."

People are buying and selling and using out of vehicles and continuing on their way -- not at all like crack, which was more stationary, set up in crack houses and slung from street corners, said the sergeant, a 17-year department veteran.

Heroin users, the sergeant said, often dose themselves twice a day -- once in the morning and again at night. Whenever a user is questioned -- at the hospital, before booking, on the street -- officers ask how they got started on drugs.

Most commonly, the sergeant said, addicts start on a painkiller prescribed for an injury, then switch to heroin when the medication runs out.

Asked if more officers would be assigned to deal with the drug problem as heroin's surge continues, the sergeant said four detectives will be added to the drug unit, but that extra bit of manpower may not be enough.

"With this type of epidemic, I don't know if you can have enough police officers," he said.

When Walter Wehenkel, a therapist at Unison Behavioral Health Group, was asked about the age range of heroin users, he said he knows of a 70-year-old user and has heard of treating children as young as 12 or 13.

"It's pretty astounding," said Denise Sparks, a West Toledo resident who attended the meeting.

Ms. Sparks said that before the meeting, she thought cocaine was Toledo streets' biggest drug problem.

"Neighbors just have to be more neighborly and know what's going on," she said.

Others questioned the links between drug use and other crimes -- like burglaries and robberies.

Statistics were not available, but the vice sergeant said there is a link.

Mr. Wehenkel added that he's heard from patients who have returned Christmas gifts for money to buy heroin, and even of people selling World War II medals to support the habit.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.