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Tallmadge Police Detective details descent from prescription meds to the street

by ellin walsh | REPORTER Published: September 11, 2016 12:00 AM
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Tallmadge -- "Heroin is hitting the suburbs and Tallmadge is not immune from drug-dealing and addiction," says Tallmadge Police Department detective Stephanie Laughlin. She handles all the drug-related cases in Tallmadge, including overdoses and overdose deaths.

In a 13-day period from July 29 to Aug. 11, Laughlin reports, there were seven opioid overdoses and one opioid overdose death reported.

"For us, in Tallmadge, that hit us hard," Laughlin says, "because we typically have one or two (drug overdoses) a month."

Laughlin has been a member of the Tallmadge Police Department for a decade and a detective for three years. In the past two months, she says she's seen "a very marked increase" in heroin overdoses. Heroin is a cheap form of an opiate and Laughlin says the majority of overdoses now stem from heroin or its more potent lookalikes fentanyl or carfentanil.

"It's unlike anything I've ever seen," she shares. "Part of my job is to go out and talk to people who've overdosed, and no one has ever told me, 'I just decided to try heroin one day.' Every person that I've talked to has started with prescription pills, your Percocets, your OxyContins."

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Percocet and OxyContin are opioids -- synthetic or partly-synthetic drugs that are manufactured to work like opiates, to provide strong relief.

"People get addicted to those prescribed drugs but then their doctor cuts them off, so they eventually turn to the street," the detective says.

Among dealers, Laughlin says, the going rate is usually $1 per milligram, so a 30-miligram pill costs $30; however, a hit of heroin may be $10.

"So once they realize that it's harder to get pills and that it's cheaper to get heroin, they turn to heroin," she says. "Because when you're addicted to an opiate, you'll take what you can get."

There is no typical heroin addict, Laughlin stresses, and the drug shows no gender bias. The youngest user she's encountered is a 15-year-old resident who overdosed; the oldest has been in their 60s. The detective says there are a couple of Tallmadge residents who have been revived from drug overdoses "numerous times."

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"With heroin, we're finding people with no other connection to the drug-dealing world other than they received an injury -- a car crash, a bad back -- and they get prescribed these pills and become addicted," Laughlin says.

These are teachers, nurses, police officers -- people who hold jobs and suffer an injury and then get prescribed pain medicine -- and once addicted, they turn to heroin as a cheaper way to get their fix.

"And the danger of going from precisely manufactured pills to heroin is that the strength of the drug is a gamble," Laughlin says.

She says the introduction of the animal sedative carfentanil to the Akron area drug market recently has caused overdoses to rise dramatically because that substance is more potent than heroin.

"When an addict is used to using a certain amount of heroin and they use the same amount of carfentanil, they end up overdosing," she says.

The Tallmadge Fire Department has carried and administered the opiate antidote Narcan for a number of years. The city's police department recently obtained Narcan from the Summit County Health Department. But carfentanil, Laughlin says, is much more resistant to Narcan.

Typically a heroin overdose victim responds pretty quickly when Narcan is administered, the detective says, but with carfentanil, someone may need multiple doses before they're revived.

The intense high sought by a heroin addict lasts only minutes, a fact Laughlin says makes it hard to go a day or even a matter of hours without using. Without another fix, the user will begin to experience withdrawal and become very ill, suffering vomiting, diarrhea, aches and pains.

"I've heard it described as the worst flu you've ever had times a thousand," Laughlin reports.

Tallmadge police are seeing an increase in thefts, and Laughlin says the heroin epidemic is a contributing factor. Addicts are going to stores, stealing items and then returning them to get gift cards to sell to dealers in exchange for drugs.

There are drug dealers in Tallmadge, Laughlin says, but not to the extent they are in Akron and bigger urban cities like Cleveland and Canton. Part of Laughlin's job is to reach out to other departments like Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Barberton to compare notes and shut dealers down.

Occasionally, Laughlin will get a phone call from the parents or sibling of an addict wondering what they can do to help. She says they shouldn't be ashamed; she wants to provide them with information, resources and links to treatment.

In return, she has a request of her own.

"In my position, the best help is tips," Laughlin says. "Nicknames, phone numbers, addresses that someone can anonymously give me are a big help. It's a constant battle trying to keep heroin off the streets and out of addicts' hands and causing more addiction.

"I would say that every single person in this community knows somebody who's addicted to opiates or they know someone who knows someone who's addicted," she said. "It affects everybody, and it's not just going to be solved by the police department arresting a dealer.

"Epidemic isn't a big enough word to convey what we're facing, but there's hope if we work together."

Laughlin can be reached at 330-633-4231 Ext. 3


Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9419 SFlbTwitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC

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