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DARKE COUNTY - Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine toured western Ohio last week, hosting several law enforcement events in Preble, Mercer and Darke counties to discuss the growing issue of drug abuse.
During a 2014 Legislative Preview Session on Jan. 30, Attorney DeWine elaborated on the topic.
“I think if you look at the state’s problems, we have all these challenges. One certainly is the drug problem. I think frankly it’s worse than what’s been reported. And it’s fundamentally changed,” he said.“Back when I was a county prosecuting attorney you would not find heroin in the rural counties. There was precious little there and very little in the suburbs. You would it in the big cities. Today it’s everywhere; it’s all 88 counties.”
DeWine also cited a recent survey compiled in conjunction with Ohio coroners is well over 900 direct deaths due to heroin in 2013 in this state, with an equal number in indirect deaths attributed to the drug.
“It’s a huge problem with no easy solution,” said DeWine. “My bottom line is that… ultimately its going to have to come back to each community through citizens who are aroused to simply say ‘We’re not going to put up with this anymore.”
The purpose of the roundtable was to discuss recent Attorney General initiatives and gather local feedback about the rising concerns raised by narcotic trafficking and use.
“I appreciate his involvement in local law enforcement,” said Darke County Sheriff Toby Spencer.
Local police agencies including Greenville Police, Ansonia Police, Union City Police and Versailles Police Departments and other county officials were in attendance to discuss the drug epidemic taking place in Ohio.
“I think the major concern across the board through every agency that he’s hearing from is the amount of deaths we’re experiencing due to heroin and overdoses,” said Sheriff Spencer. “That would be the hot button that everyone’s concerned about, and we’re discussing what we could do and if there are other resources we should be offering.”
“The other thing we’ve been doing and we’ll continue to do is give assistance to local communities who want to do their own grass roots efforts,” said DeWine.
Attorney General DeWine visited the region as part of a state-wide tour to gauge law enforcement agencies’ needs, while offering assistive services through the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which is the state’s official crime lab.
“I think with all the information out there, the intelligence gathering, I think we all just shared some resources and felt that the Attorney General was there to help,” said Spencer.
The BCI provides expert criminal investigative services to local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies upon request and can respond to local law enforcement agencies’ needs, all free of charge.
This includes special on-call agents who offer investigative assistance at crime scenes, knowledgeable scientists and forensic specialists using cutting-edge technology to process evidence to bring criminals to justice, and criminal intelligence analysts and identification specialists using facial recognition software who help local law enforcement solve cases.
The BCI’s main branch’s office is located in London, Ohio, however the organization operates satellites in Richfield, Bowling Green, Youngstown, Athens and Cambridge.
And while the Darke County Sheriff’s Office has traditionally contracted with the Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab due to location and convenience, other state law enforcement are taking up the offer for services like DNA testing and drug identification.
Taking a spotlight in the conversation was the potential importance of a local in-patient drug treatment center, which the sheriff’s office and other agencies have recently considered. However funding remains a primary obstacle.
“I don’t know whether anyone can afford it or not. From what we’ve gathered from local medical facilities, it would be very, very expensive. And who’s going to absorb those costs?” said Sheriff Spencer.
In addition, DeWine announced a new Attorney General’s Heroin Unit last November to assist law enforcement agencies, community leaders, and Ohio residents in this fight, and informed the round-table of their progress.
The Attorney General’s Heroin Unit, which includes investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, will assist in combating issues associated with the heroin epidemic, such as crime, addiction, and overdose deaths.
The decision to create the specialized unit was made after new data gathered by the Attorney General’s Office in the past month revealed a 107-percent increase in heroin deaths among more than half of Ohio’s counties.