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Methamphetamine making a comeback as heroin epidemic continues in Ohio

March 23, 2017

As heroin and its man-made cousins continue to kill Ohioans at record rates, frustrated law enforcement officials warn of the re-emergence of methamphetamine and cocaine.

“They are making a huge comeback,” said Shawn Bain, noting the sharp increase — 21 percent — in arrests related to meth.

Bain was a drug task force commander for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office before becoming the Drug Intelligence Officer for the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a group coordinating anti-drug efforts between federal, state and local authorities. Bain and two other Ohio HIDTA officials spoke Wednesday at the Franklin County Opiate Crisis Summit.

In the last half of 2015, there were 2,706 reported meth arrests in Ohio. That grew in the first half of 2016 to 3,265. They didn’t have statistics for cocaine arrests.

“All of the major areas in Ohio are seeing a major (meth) increase,” Bain said.

Orman Hall, Ohio HIDTA’s public health analyst and former executive director of the Fairfield County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board, said there are two major reasons for the increase in stimulants such as meth and cocaine.

A crackdown on prescription medication to combat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and similar disorders has led some people to seek stimulation formerly provided by those prescription drugs.

“We are using significant amounts of stimulants,” Hall said, noting there was a 30 percent increase from 2010-2015 in prescriptions for ADHD medication.

“We’ve got to be vigilant about ADHD medicine in much the same way we were about (prescription) opiates.”

The second reason for the increase of cocaine and meth, Hall and Bain said, is more pragmatic.

“People don’t want to die,” Hall said. “There is widespread knowledge that heroin kills.”

Ohio had 3,050 opiate overdose deaths in 2015, a number officials agree will be topped when 2016 statistics are finalized.

Young people, Bain said, are telling law enforcement they are terrified about how many friends and relatives have died using heroin, fentanyl or carfentanil.

“They say, ‘I’m scared of (opiates). I’m going to do a drug that won’t kill me right away,’ ” Bain said.

Despite that, Bain and Hall believe heroin and its synthetic relatives will dominate illicit drug trade for some time.

“They are still the biggest threat we have in Ohio,” Bain said. “I’m just hoping this crisis ends really soon.”

Another drug that law enforcement is watching is gabapentin, sold under the brand name Neurontin. The anti-seizure medicine, often prescribed for epilepsy or to treat nerve pain, was challenging opiates for number of prescriptions in Ohio late last year, Hall said. Like cocaine and meth, it is a stimulant often snorted, injected or taken orally.

“Its abuse is skyrocketing,” Bain said.