Parents, you might find drugs ‘hidden in plain sight’

J. Patrick Eaken

        Parents, that deodorant sitting on your teenage children’s dresser may not be what it seems.
        It might be a container for marijuana or even more illicit drugs — manufactured for that purpose — to hide its contents.
        The items are sold at head shops and on the internet and might be disguised as any household item, including cleaners, tampons, and soda cans. Teenagers also learn to create their own disguises, like hiding drugs inside of an apple, or how to use a flash drive to charge the battery component of a vape device.
        On your teenager’s cell phone may be blogging apps to post illicit drug-culture or sexual content, to hide photos and videos, or a chatting app that is easily identifiable to predators.
        They say parents often come across the signs of drug abuse or other illicit behavior in their own home and walk right passed it without notice.
        That’s why health educator Kayla DeMuth brought “Hidden in Plain Sight” to Eastwood High School on May 2. Wood County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Ryan Richards says Eastwood has seen six of its own community members die from opium or heroin overdoses in the past three-and-a-half years, and it is one of the few districts in the area that does not have drug testing.
        About 50 residents arrived in the high school auditorium to hear from DeMuth and Sgt. Richards, who works alongside the Addiction Response Collaborative, or ARC — a program within the prosecutor's office. Wood County’s ARC program has similarities to Lucas County’s DART program with some alterations, says Sgt. Richard.
        With the two speakers was Matt, a former Bowling Green High School student-athlete who nearly passed away from an overdose eight months earlier. Matt acknowledged that he used a second cell phone, a flip phone without GPS, to communicate with dealers — another sign in looking for drug abuse.
From cartels to Wood County
        Sgt. Richards said seven tons of heroin was seized in the United States in 2015, and almost all comes from Mexico or Colombia, smuggled into the country by cartels. Sgt. Richards described in detail how the cartels work the heroin into places like Toledo or Wood County.
        Sgt. Richards says once a user gets addicted to heroin, it’s no longer about getting high. Instead, it’s about “avoiding the fever” that comes with withdrawal. He described “the fever” as like “the flu times 10.” Richards says it usually takes about two to three weeks of usage to get to that point, and Matt shook his head in agreement.
        “I needed it to get through the day,” Matt said. “I would have to drive to Toledo every single day, not because I wanted to, but because I needed to.”
        Sgt. Richards says he has seen dealers go well out of their way to keep someone addicted. They even have found dealers preying on people at behavioral centers. For example, sheriff’s deputies spotted a dealer who was loitering at the Zepf Center in Toledo just looking for vulnerable addicts. He said the behavior of addicts can be even worse.
        “Addicts have no coping skills and they are never held accountable,” Sgt. Richards said. “A female overdosed after her dog died and she couldn’t cope with it. She spent three months with a dope dealer and he used her for sex.”
        Matt and Sgt. Richards note that there is no stereotype for an addict; it can be a doctor or teacher. Matt was a standout baseball and hockey player at BGHS and not someone anyone would have suspected might become a heroin user.
        Matt is in after-care right now in an extended program and still sees a counselor once a week. When he first went into therapy, he was sent to a facility out of the county, away from dealers and friends who might influence him, for 57 days. He is back to living with his parents.
        Sgt. Richards says it nearly always starts with marijuana use.
        “If I took 135 people in our program, 135 people would say it started with marijuana,” Sgt. Richards said. “There were six deaths at Eastwood High School (community) in the past few years and when I talked to the family, it all started with marijuana.          
        “It’s here. It’s hard for me to say everything is here. You are the closest to Toledo. It’s more accessible to you guys than it is Elmwood or Otsego. You are one of the three worst ones in Wood County,” the sheriff’s detective continued.
        DeMuth and Sgt. Richards both linked heroin abuse to human trafficking.
        “There is a reason why Toledo, Ohio is the human trafficking center of the United States,” Richards said. DeMuth adds that human trafficking victims are typically forced to use drugs.
        In addition, every day in the U.S., 46 people die from prescription painkiller overdoses. Richards says knowing when a heroin or opiate overdose is happening is crucial to preventing the loss of life.
        “It’s looks like they have had the life sucked out of them. Their lips are pale and fingers are starting to turn blue,” he said, adding the most important sign is that their breathing gradually slows to dangerous levels until it stops completely.
        Sgt. Richards says law enforcement has seen a reduction in overdoses because of the availability of Nalaxone, or Narcan, which is available over the counter or free from county agencies and can be used to reverse the effects of an overdose. The problem now is that Narcan is at parties, too.
        Matt says that if Narcan was available at a heroin party, it was like he “had a get out of jail free card.” When Narcan is on the scene, he says there is “no accountability, no responsibility” for the users.


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