YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The heroin epidemic is a major focus for Ohio law enforcement.
In the last two years, officers seized more than $50 million worth of narcotics, and some of those arrested end up at the Mahoning County Jail. In fact, about 350 of the almost 500 inmates are there because of drug-related charges.
Many are repeat offenders.
Mahoning County Jail Administrator Major Alki Santamas said the jail population represents a bigger problem.
“The jail is a microcosm of our community, so when there’s issues like an opiate epidemic in the community, we absolutely get those same problems inside our facility as well,” Santamas said.
When inmates are admitted to the jail, they’re given an evaluation. Those that need to detox are provided with medical care.
In 2015, the jail spent an average of $317 a month on treatment for inmates — almost $2 million total and roughly one-sixth of the jail’s budget last year.
“A lot of the time, they think they’re going to be here for a couple of hours, and they wind up being here for several days, and then we’ll start seeing them withdraw two or three days in,” said Nicole Lewis, a nurse administrator.
Individual and group counseling is also available as well as a 12-step program. The jail also offers inmates drug and addiction education
Medical facilities like the one in the Mahoning County Jail are often used to treat short-term problems, such as withdrawal, but staff says more long-term recovery programs are conducted outside of the jail in community facilities.
Brenda Heidinger, associate director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, oversees much of that long-term treatment. When she began her work 13 years ago, heroin wasn’t a problem. Now, that has changed.
Detox is a five- to seven-day process. Recovery, however, is life-long and involves constant counseling, support groups and medication.
“You don’t even realize that a person with long-term recovery may be working beside you, because a person in long-term recovery is back to leading every day life, and that’s really our goal,” Heidinger said.
The recovery process is not easy. Heidinger says working together with both the jail and other kinds of treatment facilities has been crucial to the recovery process of those seeking treatment.
WKBN is launching a year-long public service campaign to raise awareness about the problem and help come up with solutions. It kicked off with a special town hall discussion, “27 Investigates: Heroin Crisis – National Problem, Local Solutions.”
See all of WKBN 27 First News’ stories on the epidemic in our “Heroin Crisis” section.