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Heroin epidemic: Recognizing the problem

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio (Angenette Levy) -- Heroin overdoses are killing more people in neighborhoods across our area from the cities to the suburbs, public health officials said Monday night.

Community In Recovery hosted a gathering at Mercy West in Green Township.  Recovering addicts talked about how they became addicted to heroin.  Alec Schiering said he started using marijuana when he was a teen and later became addicted to heroin.

"It started with prescription painkillers that were given to me by a doctor for a back problem I had.  And that declined over two years and then I ended up on heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get," Schiering said.

He began selling drugs and went to jail. He then entered rehab. He'll celebrate two years of living drug-free on May 15.

Devon, 22, is also a recovering heroin addict. He said he started drinking alcohol and marijuana at age 12 and later became addicted to heroin.

"The first day, that's the hardest and everyday gets a little bit easier," Devon said of kicking his heroin habit.

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Hamilton County is on the rise. According to the coroner's office, 125 people died of heroin overdoses in 2012.  In 2013, heroin claimed the lives of 186 people in the county.  Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco believes the number could top 200 this year.  Dr. Sammarco said no neighborhood or demographic is immune to the heroin epidemic. A family friend's son died recently from a heroin overdose.

"It's in every neighborhood. It's in absolutely every neighborhood across this country and anyone that thinks otherwise is diluting themselves," said Dr. Sammarco.

An effort to curb heroin use in one community was later rejected.  The Cincinnati Needle Exchange Project operated in Springdale earlier this year for two months.  The city council approved it.  But, Health Commissioner Cammie Mitrione said a few people in the city complained and the program fell victim to politics.  She told the crowd the people who operated the program were not a problem but one resident photographed the program's participants and even followed one in their car.

"I was really disappointed to not see that service available anywhere in southwest Ohio. It's an important service," Mitrione said.

Health officials also discussed another dangerous drug, Fentanyl.  It's often found in heroin.  It's a potent pain killer that's often administered through patches in microgram doses.

"The Fentanyl that's showing up on the streets, you have no idea what the concentration is because you don't know who's cutting it or what they're cutting it with," Dr. Sammarco said.

Meanwhile, Alec Schiering hopes that sharing his story will raise awareness about heroin addiction and get people talking about the problem rather than denying it exists.

"Addicts will go to jail, rehabs, anything they can to not say I need help.  We need to change that.  It's a stigma, that's all it is," Schiering said.

One speaker told the crowd that missing spoons in their home could be a sign someone has a heroin problem.  Those who shoot up heroin use spoons to heat it before injecting it with needles.

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