China that’s being used in conjunction with heroin or by itself,” DeWine said. “It’s very toxic, so toxic that we’ve warned police departments not to touch it or do any sort of field tests with it.”

Although Ohio’s problem with drug abuse remains especially severe, the state is not alone. An estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffer from a substance use disorder related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin, according the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“The problem is in every county big or small; in rural areas, cities and certainly suburbs,” DeWine said. “No community is immune to this horrible problem.”

Too many drugs, not enough treatment

Though DeWine couldn’t pinpoint exactly why Ohio has become such a hot spot for opioid abuse, he blamed much of the state’s opioid problem on what he calls the Mexican Drug Cartel’s “pizza delivery system” for drug trafficking of heroin and other illegal drugs at the street level.

“You can get it for cheap as pizza and you can get it delivered right to you,” he said. “It’s a perfect business model, because they get you started at $10, but your desire for heroin keeps increasing until maybe you may end up taking 10 times what you started with and a $1,500 habit.”

That is coupled with the startling statistic from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration that 86 percent of people in Ohio suffering from drug dependence or misuse issues do not have access to the care they need.

Josh Hoskins, director of admissions at the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center, said long waiting lists and high costs of treatment facilities often make it difficult for addicts in the state to seek help.

“We have definitely seen an increase in inquiries about treatment, and it’s a shame because a lot of people that seek help can’t get it,” Hoskins said. “A lot of people have little to no insurance coverage.”

He said the Ohio Addiction Recovery Center aims to solve those problems by offering patients scholarships for 20 percent of their treatment program on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“We don’t want a financial obligation to hinder someone from getting help,” Hoskins said.

The residential facility currently has 12 beds for treatment for men only, but will be gaining a six-bed women’s facility within the next two months, he said. When those beds are full, Hoskins said the facility won’t turn patients away or put them on a waiting list before first trying to find them help at another facility.

“We don’t want anyone to slip through cracks,” Hoskins said. “There is a problem. This is a disease, and it can’t be treated by sweeping it under the rug.”

But despite statistics showing a lack of available treatment in the region, Hoskins insisted that help is available to those willing to seek it.

“Sometimes there will be a weeklong wait list for a facility, so if you don’t follow through, of course you’re not going to get help,” he said. “If you want help, you’ll get help. You might have to wait, but you’ll get it.”

A new approach to addiction

The number of accidental overdose deaths in Franklin County, Ohio, doubled from 68 to nearly 140 between 2012 and 2015, Minerd said. He was happy to report that while they aren’t on track to decline this year. But they also aren’t on track to increase.

“We’re on pace this year for about a number equal to what it was last year,” he said. “I’d like to think that our efforts have at least contributed to leveling it out.”

Minerd was referring to the Heroine Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) Task Force launched last January by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to combat the county’s drug problem.

The HOPE Task Force, meant to restructure the county’s previous drug task force, works to provide treatment, rather than jail time, to heroin addicts while working to arrest drug suppliers.

Minerd said the new task force has linked between 30 and 40 individuals with ongoing treatment in the county, and arrested 25 to 30 dealers supplying the addictive drug.  

“Law enforcement has started to become active players in trying to get people treatment,” DeWine said. “I don’t know anybody in Ohio that thinks we can arrest our way out of this problem.”

Minerd said the new task force also involves changing the way addiction is viewed by both police departments and the community. It’s a change that he himself has only made recently after more than 26 years as a police officer.

“For about 23 of those years I thought each addict was just another junkie that made a choice to do drugs,” he said. “The more I learned how it affects the body, I got a better insight of how it works. It’s changed my mindset in viewing addiction as a disease as opposed to a choice.”

While Minerd said that jail time is still necessary in some cases, he said Ohio still has room for improvement in that department.

“We’re nowhere close to where we need to be,” he said. “Too often our jails have become a dumping ground for people who really need help. Police department success has been based on numbers for so many years, but you can’t measure addiction that way.”