What Did Ohio Do to Deserve So Much Heroin and Fentanyl?

February 15, 2017
Ohio is a major epicenter of this nation’s devastating problem with opioid addiction and overdose.
Akron, Ohio

When I was a child, my favorite adopted uncle lived in Ohio. He was a tall and gangly fellow who worked at Goodyear Tires in Akron. He’d visit from time to time but the real way he won my heart was by sending me fat envelopes filled with comic books a few times a year. Just for that reason, the State of Ohio has always had a special place in my heart. Which is why I take special note of the problems of drug trafficking, addiction and overdose taking place in Ohio for the last few years.

The origins and growth of these problems was documented in the 2015 book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Mr. Quinones explains how the proliferation of pills mills—unscrupulous medical facilities whose only job is to dispense addictive painkillers to anyone who can pay for a visit—began to hook the working class population of Southern Ohio. Painkillers are opioids—the same class of drug as heroin.

Outside pain clinics, customers wait in long lines to get pills to see a doctor.
Outside pain clinics, crowds of patients wait to get their pills.

But pills are expensive so when money ran out, those who had grown dependent on opioids migrated to the use of heroin. The establishment of a convenient new system of heroin distribution even made acquiring the drug fast, easy and palatable, attracting more customers.

Of course, this epidemic was not limited to Ohio. But Ohio seems to have far more than its share of this burden. News coming out of Ohio proves the situation has not yet turned around. The people of this state still suffer a disproportionately high number of overdoses—both the kind that can be survived and the kind that can’t.

Fentanyl Arrives to Make Things Much, Much Worse

Right now, the headlines out of Ohio are talking about unprecedented new levels of drug overdoses. In early February 2017, Chillicothe police were called to seven overdoses in as many hours. The first week of that month, there were an average of four overdoses a day.

Because of the liberal use of naloxone, most people survive these overdoses. But many of them overdose again the next day or next week—or even the same day.

Why these extraordinary numbers of overdoses? Because of the arrival of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic painkiller that is now being manufactured in illicit labs, mostly in China. When fentanyl began to be mixed into heroin supplies, even those who carefully managed their heroin intake began to overdose.

One Ohio woman who overdosed told police that she had only consumed half her usual amount of what she thought was heroin. Think how tiny two grains of salt are—that’s the amount of fentanyl that can cause an overdose, even in a person accustomed to consuming heroin.

Fentanyl Traffickers Have Ohio in their Crosshairs

Law enforcement personnel in Ohio have recently released an update on the quantity of fentanyl being found in the state. In 2015, there were 3,861 seizures of drugs that were confirmed to contain fentanyl. Pennsylvania is in the number two spot for seizures, but only had 897 positive samples.

Is it only because painkiller and heroin use is so firmly entrenched in Ohio that international traffickers are targeting Ohio for distribution of their drugs? We may never know exactly why. The only thing that is certain is that don’t yet have a sufficient solution in place. As a Chillicothe detective noted, “Unfortunately, with all we're doing, we could be a few years to several years before we see a decrease.” That means more time for more people to become addicted and risk losing their lives.

What Can You Do About it?

Families across the country would be very smart to take every measure possible to protect their members (both young and not-so-young) from addiction. Narconon International has plenty of information available to help parents keep their children safe and sober. You can find that information here.

Parents need to have conversations with their children about drugs to prevent drug use.

In fact, here are 10 things you can do right now to reduce the chance your kids will use drugs.

Are you concerned that someone you care about might be using drugs? You can get help spotting drug use here.

And, as always, if someone you love needs to recover from addiction, we can help. Learn how to select the right drug rehabilitation in this article on our blog.

The best thing to do in that situation is call us immediately to find out how to get your loved one into rehab the first moment possible. Call us at 1-800-775-8750 for a greater understanding of the problem and a lasting solution to addiction.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.