BY MATTHEW BROWN
Opiate and Heroin use has become a major problem in Jefferson County, said Steubenville Police Officer Shawn Scott in a talk Feb. 19, sponsored by the Instruments of Peace Social Work Club.
Speaking to a 20-person audience gathered in the St. Joseph’s Center Seminar Room, Scott sought to spread awareness of the dangers and prevalent use of opiates and heroin throughout Jefferson County.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, Jefferson County had the 3rd highest opiate overdose related deaths in Ohio last year and one Ohioan dies every five hours from a drug overdose said Scott.
Scott opened the talk with a prayer and, after a short introduction, he engaged the audience with a short hand-out quiz on various drug facts among teens and adults. The results showed that most people who abuse opioid painkillers, like OxyContin, eventually switch to heroin. As these people continue to use, their cravings get harder to satisfy, creating a cycle of ongoing and more severe abuse.
Results also showed that humans are in their mid-twenties before their brains are fully mature and drug use among teens can damage brain development.
Drugs are constantly evolving, and many are being mixed with other drugs to become stronger and potentially more lethal. A newer trend includes the mixture of fentanyl and heroin, which has proven to be fatal and has already caused over 20 deaths in Pittsburgh, said Scott.
In response to the mass effect drugs have in the community, the Steubenville Police Department, along with public officials and other members of the community, joined together to form the Jefferson County Opiate Task Force.
Scott was assigned to this force a year ago by Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty.
The force is centered on solving the drug problem by addressing important issues like rehabilitation, urban renovation as well as recognizing the social and economic factors that contribute to drug addiction.
The Steubenville Police Department is committed to arresting those involved with selling and using drugs and removing them from the streets, but the department also recognizes that arrests and incarceration alone will not solve the problem.
“True rehab is going to come about in a lot of areas: Physical, emoting, material and spiritual,” said Scott. “If we’re not doing things to combat drug addiction or help people get out of those cycles then all we’re doing by putting them in jail is perpetuating the problem.”
Jefferson County has seen a lot of change in the past years, namely the fall of the coal and steel industry, which served as the areas primary source of income for decades. When the industry disappeared, jobs decreased, average incomes lowered, pensions were taken away and the population’s sense of community was no longer as important as before.
“Education and awareness are vital to stopping the epidemic of drugs in the community,” said Iliana Bazan, a social work professor. “Another important piece is understanding. When a community understands that addiction is an illness, judgment hopefully will subside and greater support for treatment will be on the rise. That’s why talks like these are important for our school as well as our community. The audience consisted mostly of social work majors who have held various internships throughout the county and have witnessed the rising drug issue.”
Senior social work major Emma Giblin said, “I think it was very informative given the fact I am currently doing my internship at the Gill House in Steubenville, which is adult case management for people who are chronically, mentally ill. It’s hard to distinguish whether a person has a drug addiction or if they are mentally ill, so having everything explained and understanding more about the culture and demographics of Steubenville lets me understand culturally where these people are coming from.”
Officer Scott is a Franciscan University of Steubenville aluminous and has served on the force for 23 years. He has been assigned to several duties such as a walking patrolman, juvenile officer, and has also specialized in child neglect and abuse cases. Scott is currently a code enforcement officer and is responsible for making sure houses and buildings are structurally up to standard.
The Jefferson County Opiate Task Force can be contacted at 740- 346-0908.