Heroin use in the Cincinnati area has exploded in the past decade, fed by sophisticated supply networks focused on mostly white suburban and rural users who have tried prescription painkillers, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. It has increased even more dramatically since 2010, when the painkiller OxyContin was reformulated to make it harder to abuse. “The heroin problem in our area has been driven by prescription abuse,” said Ann Barnum of the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. “OxyContin, Percocet, those are the gateway drugs to heroin.”
Two things differentiate this spike in drug use from the crack epidemic of the 1980s or the more recent meth crisis. One is heroin’s link to prescription drugs. The other is that more people are dying. The surge has doubled fatal and nonfatal overdoses and has overwhelmed law enforcement, medical authorities and social service agencies in our community. “Are we keeping it at bay? Not at all,” said Sgt. Cliff Mitchell, commander of the Cincinnati Police Department’s Major Drug Offenders Unit. Said Dr. Jeremy Engel of St. Elizabeth Physicians in Bellevue, “It’s just so bad. It’s just so much. That’s all I can think about.” Brown County, Oh., Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger said heroin “isn’t creeping - it’s running full blast” into his jurisdiction along the Ohio River, home to 44,800 people.