Kim Hone-McMahan

Deaths from heroin are so prevalent some are assuming, whether right or wrong, that an obituary of a young man or woman that doesn’t include a cause of death is for someone who has died from the drug.

Recently, there was a death notice of a 25-year-old in the Beacon Journal that caught my eye. I believe his family members, suffering in their darkest hour, were reaching out to others with a warning.

“A choice to use heroin one more time, took him from us; I don’t believe he thought it would,” read the notice of the Revere High School graduate “who had a smile that would brighten your day, a quick wit that could make you burst into joyous laughter.”

When I asked my friends on Facebook to identify things that influence our community, heroin came out on top.

“This disgusting killer does not care [about] your age, your home life, your religion, your race,” wrote Sue Fortner of Norton. “Students, that have had the best home life, top in their class, wives and husbands that are very successful, doctors, lawyers and other types … use this killer.”

Last year in Summit County, 54 people died from heroin-related causes. In the first 43 days of this year, the most recent statistics available from the medical examiner’s office, the drug killed 15. If that rate remains constant, some 127 families, an increase of more than 130 percent over last year, will bury a loved one in 2015 due to heroin.

Though Ohio county coroners are not required to report deaths caused by heroin, some do. Statistics obtained from the Ohio Attorney General’s office showed Medina County had eight heroin-related deaths last year. Eighteen died in Portage, 22 in Stark. There was no figure for Wayne.

The Overdose Prevention Task Force, which was formed by Attorney General Mike DeWine, recently suggested that all coroners report on death certificates each drug responsible for, or that interacted to cause a death.

While far too many families are having to grieve the death of a loved one, it could have been worse. Thousands across the nation have been saved by Naloxone, or Narcan, which first responders can use to reverse overdoses if they are notified in time.

Confronting problem

Frustrated with the deaths and problems that heroin is causing in the lives of many, I asked my pals on Facebook what we, as individuals — siblings, parents, neighbors and friends — could do about the problem. The question resulted in quick, sometimes heated, responses.

Michelle Zimmer of Barberton suggested that former users and family members who have lost someone to heroin should confront the dealers.

“Cops are at a loss. Hospitals are too,” she said. “I’m fortunate enough [that] my son survived [a heroin overdose]. I did whatever it took to keep him alive. Had he died, I’d be all over the people who sold it to him.”

Of course, law enforcement doesn’t advocate taking matters in your own hands, but I absolutely understand why parents would go in search of the person who caused a child’s death.

An Akron woman, who asked that her name not be used because she feared for her family’s safety, said she has kept a close eye on the activity in her neighborhood.

“I have called cops, detectives and whoever would listen. We have had two overdoses with one death in my neighborhood in six months — both from heroin,” she said. “I have two teens and it’s pretty sad that they learn about drugs, body bags and death from neighbors and not out of a book.

“I can’t move due to finances, but have tried all I can to report [the drug activity]. I even have videos of the deals being made right in the street.”

Role of parents

It’s a problem in every community. Whether you live in a drug-infested area of the city or a rich suburb, your neighborhood is not immune.

Lots of parents have done all they can to keep their children on the right path. They have cried, cursed and lost countless hours of sleep worrying about their sons and daughters. But Krista Hostetler Harstine of Strasburg noted that others have turned a blind eye.

“They let kids do what they wanted, gave in to them, handed them everything. Or [they] were workaholics and never were home — so kids had free rein,” Harstine said. “Questions weren’t asked when hanging out with friends, when money was missing, when things didn’t seem right.

“Parents cover for their kids, how many times do they get bailed out when they continuously repeat the same thing [like] stealing, drugs, alcohol abuse? This is why you have grown addicts living with Mommy and Daddy and never doing anything but continue the behaviors,” she added. “Make them be responsible.”

But then there are those who are simply following in Mommy or Daddy’s footsteps. Drugs are or were part of their lives, and like father, like son. As they age, they spend every penny they earn on drugs, rather than providing for their families.

Breaking the cycle

“Police and emergency personnel carry the drug that reverses an overdose — only for the addict to go and do it all over again … So the cycle continues. If you are revived from an overdose, let the law step in and start a stiff rehab program. If you are brought before a judge give him the right to impose a strict penalty. Let the law rule their every waking moment,” Fortner said. “Maybe somewhere down the road they would either get clean, or come to the conclusion it just isn’t worth … having their freedom taken away and figure living clean is the only option.

“Only wishful thinking. Maybe a stupid thought on my part, but a thought out loud is not a bad thing.”

It certainly isn’t.

I wholeheartedly agree with Shirley Branch of Akron, who said that addiction is an ongoing battle and it’s impossible to make someone stop using if they don’t want to stop. So maybe the answer is that we all need to take a little responsibility to educate our loved ones and report suspected drug activity. If we do, perhaps we can reduce the number of mothers and fathers who will be quietly weeping beside their child’s grave this year.

God help us.

Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or kmcmahan@thebeaconjournal.com. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kim.honemcmahan1.