MOUNT VERNON — In 2008, there were five accidental overdoses from opiates, according to Dr. Jennifer Ogle, Knox County coroner. The count for 2009 surpassed that, with seven as of Dec. 23. One was from an overdose of heroin — 27-year-old Carl Culbertson.
Signs of drug abuse
Symptoms of use: Lethargy, drowsiness, nodding, itching, euphoria, nausea, slowed breathing, blue lips, restlessness, decreased appetite, irregular heartbeat, and going back and forth between feeling alert and drowsy.
Behavioral signs: Loss of enthusiasm and involvement; withdrawal from family,
friends, and hobbies; reluctance to introduce new friends; loss of interest and
deterioration in quality of performance at work or school; unusual request for
money; sudden change in mood and behavior; devious and manipulative behavior.
Increase in theft and prostitution.
Heroin use increasing in Knox County December 23, 2009
Described as a straight A student, self-starter and athlete, Carl started using drugs in junior high school. First it was alcohol, then marijuana. Then he started mixing prescription pills with the alcohol.
“Freshman year in college was his major downfall,” said Carl’s father, Mount Vernon resident Dave Culbertson. “Ecstasy, Ecstasy laced with heroin, pot laced with heroin, and then heroin. He shot up.”
Culbertson said his son also used acid.
“Carl was competitive in everything he did, whether it was basketball, baseball, video games, poker, whatever. That competitive spirit also came out in party situations. He thrived in being the one who could take the most pills, drink the most, whatever,” said Culbertson.
“Drug investigators in 2003-04 couldn’t find any [heroin],” said Detective Sgt. Jeff Jacobs of the Mount Vernon Police Department. “Nobody was selling it. Then just shortly after that, in 2005-06, we started getting in the overdoses. A lot of them were related to Oxycontin. After that we started seeing a lot of heroin usage.”
Jacobs said people get hooked on opiates such Oxycontin, morphine, Percocet, Demerol or Vicodin.
“Because of the price, your normal street user moves on to heroin because it’s easier to get,” he said.
Ogle said the cheapness of heroin makes it more accessible to people who want to experiment.
“The other tricky part of that is with inexpensive pure heroin being accessible to people, it makes it easier to try unconventional means to use it, such as smoking it,” she said.
According to eBasedPrevention.org, a drug education organization funded by the state of Ohio, Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services and the Ohio Department of Education, the traditional way of using heroin is through injection. However, with the lower cost of heroin, a larger percentage of today’s users are either snorting or smoking heroin. According to its Web site, “smoking or snorting heroin is more appealing to new users because it eliminates both the fear of acquiring syringe-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, as well as the social stigma attached to intravenous heroin use. Many new users mistakenly believe that smoking or snorting heroin is a safe technique for avoiding addiction.” However, both methods also lead to a high incidence of addiction.
“With heroin, the effects are immediate,” said Jacobs. “The addition is very quick and very tough to break. That’s saying a lot considering how addictive crack and meth is.”
Opiates are used in pain management.
“If you have chronic pain, you don’t actually get addicted to [the drug],” said Jacobs. “If you’re in pain, you need it. If you don’t have the pain, that’s when you get addicted to it.”
Those involved say education is key to combating the problem of drug abuse. Jacobs said that initially, physicians didn’t realize the prescription drug abuse was a problem.
“Those drugs have a good use to them,” he said. “Then, a few years ago, we started getting a lot of prescription ODs. Over a dozen in a couple of years period. So we tried to educate the doctors.”
Ogle said parents need to start the dialogue about the dangers of drugs early.
“We need to be educating not just the youth, but everybody,” she said.
Lt. Chad McGinty of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, who has seen an increasing number of heroin-related traffic stops on I-71, agreed.
“Make sure parents and employers are aware,” said McGinty. “They need to keep an eye out for substantial change in demeanor or physical appearance.”
Culbertson said his son received treatment at a center in Newark, where he received counseling.
“He seemed to get better, then relapsed,” said Culbertson. “Carl got into legal trouble and in lieu of jail, we got him into one of the best places in the nation, in Jackson, Miss.”
Culbertson said that in addition to education, affordable treatment and changes in the legal system are also needed.
“We need affordable or free treatment centers,” he said. “COPAC and their program was awesome, but we had no insurance to cover it and it cost about the same as sending a child to Harvard or Kenyon.
“The saddest part of the story is Carl was healed and clean for more than two years, thanks to COPAC,” he said. “But the judicial system in the state of Ohio, in all its wisdom, said, ‘Well, since you’re healed, you must come home to Ohio and spend the rest of your probation up here.’ We were furious, but could not fight it. They made him come back to Ohio and to his troubles, triggers and dealers. It didn’t take long for him to go from productive, happy, clean citizen in Jackson, Miss., to a user again in Ohio.”
Culbertson said he is convinced Carl would be alive today had he not been forced to return to Ohio.
Culbertson said the hands of law enforcement are tied in two ways: Through budget restraints, and search and seizure laws that protect criminals and dealers.
“We don’t have the funds to fight [drug abuse] properly,” he said. “We don’t even have the funds any more to run the DARE program in our schools.
“I have the highest respect for our local law enforcement,” he continued. “They want to help, but what’s the use? Our laws favor the criminals so much, they are right back on the street.”
Culbertson said the restrictions on law enforcement in regard to searching for drugs should be loosened.
“I’m not saying do away with Miranda rights, but we’ve got to get tough on dealers,” he said. “Loosen the restrictions on law enforcement to be able to search for drugs and weapons in traffic stops, and when they know illegal things are going on. If you’re innocent, no problem. If you’re dealing in drugs, then tough luck, you’re busted. Law enforcement officials have to feel like society ‘has their back,’ that if they make a bust the court system is going to follow through and prosecute.”
Jacobs is cautious about that approach.
“People are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and we never want to lose sight of that,” he said. “I don’t think there needs to be looseness on law enforcement as far as how we handle it. The one thing that would be nicer is if there were stiffer penalties.
“If a minimal amount is found on you,” he continued, “that’s a felony, but not to the point you’re going to go to prison for a long period of time. The judges and court are handicapped — they can only fine so much based on the degree of felony.”
Jacobs said a fourth- or fifth-degree felony will result in up to 18 months of prison, plus the opportunity for rehabilitation.
“That would be great if rehabilitation worked,” he said. “The problem is, it doesn’t always work.
“It does seem like we deal with the same people over and over again,” he continued. “The justice system is in the same loop as long as the Legislature restricts it to what it can do. People use and abuse, we catch them, they go through the legal system. They get out and go right back into it again.”
Jacobs said money is an issue, too.
“The prison system can’t handle [that many people],” he said. “You are really caught in a whole cycle. It gets back to people have free will to choose, and lots of times they don’t have the will to refuse. [Drug abuse] consumes you — you don’t care who you hurt.”