Pubdate: Sun, 09 Sep 2012
Source: Chronicle, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012, Chronicle
Author: Evan Goodenow


Dillon Starnes chose jail over heroin. Homeless and facing the 
prospect of spending the night at a house full of junkies and 
relapsing, Starnes on July 11 sat outside his mother's home in 
violation of a temporary protection order she had against him and 
told police when they arrived that he wanted to get clean in the 
Lorain County Jail. v "There's no help around here. They just give 
you the runaround," he said in a recent interview. "It's pretty sad I 
had to put myself in jail to get help."

Starnes, who said he's been clean since July 5, is one of a growing 
number of prescription pill or heroin addicts or recovering addicts 
around the county, state and nation. Drug overdoses are the leading 
cause of death in Ohio since 2007, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

There were 1,544 fatal overdoses in Ohio in 2010, compared to 327 in 
1999, a 372 percent increase. About four addicts fatally overdose per 
day in Ohio, about one every six hours.

Lorain County has not been immune. Fatal overdoses from heroin, 
cocaine, pills or a combination of those drugs have skyrocketed this 
year. There were 39 fatal overdoses through Sept. 2 compared with 22 
for all of last year, 20 in 2010 and nine in 2009.

"It's mushrooming, and we've got to do something," said Dr. Stephen 
Evans, Lorain County coroner. "We have to stop these deaths."

Besides the emotional cost, the deaths have also taken a deep 
financial toll on the coroner's office.

The office, which has five doctors including Evans and an annual 
budget of $419,000, has had to do far more autopsies, blood tests and 
transportation of corpses.

"It's going to bankrupt my office," Evans said. "We're rapidly 
running out of money."

'You have to change everything'

Among the deaths was Daniel Pohorence on April 11 in Oberlin. 
Poh0rence, 42, was found by his son, D.J. Pohorence, 21, also of Oberlin.

The two had used drugs together in the past and the younger Pohorence 
said he at first used his father's death as an excuse to binge on heroin.

D.J. Pohorence, said he started using pills at 15 before switching to 
heroin when he could no longer afford pills, a common route for addicts.

The cost of one pill on the street is about $1 per milligram and one 
pill is often 80 milligrams. A bindle of heroin - about 0.34 of a 
gram - costs $10 to $20. A gram of heroin costs $150 to $180.

The more addicts use drugs, the more their tolerance to them grows, 
meaning they need more and more to get high. And addicts who relapse 
after coming out of rehabilitation are in danger of overdosing, 
according to Thomas Stuber, CEO and president of LCADA, which stands 
for Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services. He said they often 
use the same dosage they needed before going into rehab not realizing 
their tolerance has decreased.

Pohorence said he said he has been clean since April 18 and is trying 
not to end up like his father, a longtime addict.

"He wouldn't want to see me ruin my life and end up like his," Pohorence said.

But Pohorence said he also recognizes maintaining sobriety is 
ultimately up to him.

"You've got to want to change. You can't have other people wanting it 
for you because that's not going to work," he said. "If you're trying 
to stay sober based off of fear of like court or something like that, 
that's still not going to be enough. You have to change everything 
and have the willingness to do that."

Kellie Foster, Pohorence's mother, said she never saw her son's 
addiction coming despite his father's problems. Foster said she had 
little contact with Daniel Pohorence, but is close to her son.

She attended PTA meetings and his ballgames and warned him about 
hanging out with kids who might be into drugs. Foster said when she 
learned of her son's addiction three years ago, it was like a bomb exploding.

D.J. Pohorence was attending Notre Dame College in South Euclid on an 
athletic scholarship for bowling and golf and he was getting A's and 
B's despite his addiction. Pohorence - now working part time as a 
cafeteria worker at Oberlin College and as a stocker at Walmart - had 
to drop out of college to go into rehab after his sophomore year and 
is about 12 credits shy of an associate degree.

Foster said she naively believed a 28-day stay in-patient treatment 
would cure her son, but soon learned otherwise. D.J. Pohorence has 
been through nine rehabilitations and subsequent relapses.

Depressed over losing his car and scholarship, Foster said the 
longest her son could stay clean was two weeks after rehabilitation - 
forcing her to repeatedly kick him out of the house.

"Since he started using at 15 years old, it's like he's programmed 
that any time he had an unpleasant thought or anything unpleasant, 
that he didn't have to think about it if he did drugs," she said. 
"Instead of dealing with the pain, I'm going to go and use."

Foster credits the Lorain County chapter of SOLACE, Surviving Our 
Loss and Continuing Everyday, a parental support group, for helping 
her deal with her son's addiction. Through the group and a 12-Step 
program, Foster said she realized she has no control over his addiction.

"I'm kind of a control freak. I'm the type where there's a problem, I 
fix it, done," she said. "That practice does not work."

'We can't arrest our way out of this'

Foster blames the addiction epidemic on pharmaceutical companies 
over-marketing pills to increase profits and some doctors 
over-prescribing pills.

In 2010, the pharmaceutical industry produced 69 tons of pure 
oxycodone and 42 tons of hydrocodone, according to The Associated 
Press. That's enough to supply 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins 
to every person in the nation. Enough narcotics were prescribed to 
provide every, man, woman and child in Lorain County with between 50 
to 75 doses annually, according to Stuber.

When Stuber was appointed the nonprofit group's CEO and president in 
1999, he said the group treated about seven heroin or prescription 
pill addicts per year.

"Now we're seeing that every three days," he said. "They are not 
responding to low levels of treatment. They need fairly intensive services."

Last year, a new law designed to crack down on prescription pill 
abuse though "pill mills" was passed by the Ohio Legislature. 
Beginning in June of last year, "pain management clinics" had to be 
licensed by the state Board of Pharmacy as a "terminal distributor of 
dangerous drugs." Licenses of abusive clinics can be suspended 
without hearings before the State Medical Board and $5,000 fines 
imposed by the pharmacy board and $20,000 fines by the medical board.

The law also contains $5,000 fines for doctors who prescribe more 
than more than 2,500 dosage units to a patient in a 30-day period and 
limits the dosage a patient can receive in a 72-hour period to the 
amount necessary for the patient's use.

The law also requires more extensive reporting by pharmacists on the 
prescriptions for controlled substances they fill. They must file a 
report within five days to a pharmacy board data base known as the 
Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, or OARRS. Doctors, pharmacists 
and police have access to the data base.

Addicts use various ways to try to get around the law, including 
filing false police reports to convince doctors to refill their prescriptions.

"How many times have I been out to your house for stolen 
prescriptions?" an exasperated Lorain police officer asked a woman at 
the Police Department in May of last year. "How many times have you 
filed a report for stolen medication? Five times?"

The pale woman in her 30s was rail-thin with dark circles around her 
eyes, stringy blond hair and bruises on her legs. Stammering, she 
denied filing false reports and told a rambling story in a monotone 
voice about her pills being stolen after she was knocked unconscious 
in a car accident.

The woman eventually left the department after the skeptical officer 
told her to file a report online.

"Then you can show that to a doctor to get a prescription," he said.

Addicts also lie about being in pain to get their prescriptions 
filled. Foster said her son was able to use minor pain as a ruse, and 
she's witnessed doctors irresponsibly giving out prescriptions herself.

"Opana was originally manufactured for cancer patients," she said. 
"Now, why is it being prescribed (on) a whim?"

While Foster is skeptical, Detective Greg Mehling - a member of the 
Lorain County Sheriff's Office assigned to the Lorain County Drug 
Task Force since 1999 - said the new law has been effective.

He said the task force is receiving more calls from doctors and 
pharmacists about suspicious patients and customers. Evans agrees 
about the law's effectiveness, but said it has had an unintended consequence.

Evans said the harder it is for addicts to get pills, the more they 
will use heroin, which has seen its potency increase and cost 
decrease in recent years. Evans said the county's high unemployment 
rate has also fueled depression and desperation leading more people 
to self-medicate.

Breaking the news of an unexpected death is one of the toughest jobs 
for a coroner, and Evans said the rash of fatal overdoses has been 
particularly hard for him emotionally because many of the victims 
were between the ages of 15 and 35.

"The worst thing that can happen to a parent is to have their child 
die before they do," he said.

Evans and Mehling both say while enforcement is necessary, more money 
must be spent on treating addicts instead of incarcerating them. 
About 25 percent of the nation's approximately 2.3 million prisoners 
were convicted of drug crimes, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Of the 20,682 commitment offenses for people entering Ohio prisons 
last year, 5,127, about 25 percent, were for drug crimes, according 
to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. It costs 
about $69 per day to house each of the nearly 50,000 inmates in Ohio prisons.

Experts say the number of prisoners incarcerated for drug-related 
crimes may actually be higher because many property and violent 
crimes were committed by addicts seeking money to buy drugs.

A 2010 study by the Center for Substance Abuse at Columbia University 
estimated 1.5 million, or 65 percent of the nation's prisoners, were 
addicts and only 11 percent received treatment. The report also noted 
that in 2005, federal, state and local governments spent $74 billion 
on incarceration, court proceedings, probation and parole for 
substance-involved adult and juvenile offenders and less than 1 
percent of that amount - $632 million - on prevention and treatment for them.

"You're never going to totally turn off the supply," Mehling told 
SOLACE members at a June meeting in Avon. "We can't arrest our way 
out of this."

Stuber's group, formed in 1980, has an approximately $4 million 
annual budget and about 84 employees. The group, which is 
anticipating state budget cuts, served about 2,400 clients last year. 
It has three facilities in Lorain and one in Elyria,

The group's 16-bed facility for women and their children in Lorain 
has room for 32 beds but a federal law restricts expansion because of 
neighborhood safety concerns.

Stuber said he's working with U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley 
Township, and the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction 
Services to get the law changed. Stuber said the department on 
Wednesday agreed to form a task force to submit a waiver to the 
federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to 
approve the expansion.

'I just wanted a normal life.'

Starnes, the man who deliberately got himself arrested in an attempt 
to get clean, said he avoids group therapy sessions at LCADA because 
some of those attending the meetings are still using drugs and get 
high after the meetings.

"You're meeting people that are still using that are in your shoes," he said.

However, Starnes said he regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous and 
Narcotics Anonymous meetings to stay clean, despite worrying about 
associating with fellow recovering addicts.

Starnes said his time in jail was frustrating. He said there weren't 
enough slots for treatment and many of the people who were mandated 
to attend rehabilitation classes didn't want to be there.

Starnes, 21, of Lorain, has been abusing drugs for nearly half his 
life. He started smoking marijuana at 11 and started using 
prescription pills like codeine, Oxycontin and Percocet and cocaine at 14.

He got clean while spending nine months in custody of the Department 
of Youth Services, but relapsed soon after his release, smoking and 
selling marijuana and using Ecstasy. Starnes, who said he's good with 
his hands, said he did odd jobs to help feed his habit.

At 16, he was snorting heroin.

Starnes said he quit heroin at 17 and left Lorain County for 
Millersburg in Holmes County a couple years ago. He and his 
girlfriend had a son in November 2010, but after breaking up with her 
he returned to the county in March and started injecting heroin.

To Starnes, it seemed as if everyone in the county was hooked.

"You've got 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds in Amherst getting high on 
heroin and shooting dope," he said.

Besides attending meetings, Starnes said he needs the routine of 
working regularly. Starnes said when he comes home from work, he just 
wants to sleep rather than go out and party. On the weekends, he said 
he hangs out at non-alcohol juice bars. Starnes said he recently got 
full-time roofing work and is moving to Elyria to avoid running into 
addicts he knows in Lorain.

On Aug. 7, Starnes pleaded no contest in Lorain Municipal Court to an 
amended charge of disorderly conduct over the protection order 
violation in exchange for a 30-day suspended sentence.

"The 15 days I spent in jail got my head right," he told Judge Mark 
Mihok . "I just got a job and I'm trying to get my own place."

Starnes said he wants to be there for his son, Leland, in the way his 
father, Robert Starnes Jr., wasn't. Robert Starnes is a convicted 
bank robber serving a 15-year federal sentence after being convicted 
last year of robbing three banks in 2010. Robert Starnes has a long 
criminal history, and his son remembers his jailhouse tattoos from 
visiting him in prison as a young boy.

Starnes said he hoped to reunite with his father when he first got 
out of prison, but his father split up with his mother shortly after 
his release.

"That really crushed me," he said. "I just wanted a normal life with 
my father. Being able to play baseball and him coming to my wrestling 
meets. None of that ever happened because he was too busy using drugs 
and going to jail."

While acknowledging he can't do it alone, Starnes, like D.J. 
Pohorence, said he knows it's ultimately up to him whether he stays clean.

"It comes down to do I want this couple seconds of being high or do I 
want a life for me and my son?" he said. "I want to be a dad to my 
son. I guess I have to man up and stop moping around and do what I have to do."

However, talking about staying clean and sober is far easier than 
doing it. On Aug. 23, a little over two weeks after Starnes spoke of 
turning his life around, he was arrested and charged by Lorain police 
with disorderly conduct by intoxication, persistent disorderly 
conduct and obstructing official business.

Starnes was accused of "delaying and hindering" an investigation into 
an argument in a home before being arrested, according to a police report.

Starnes is due back in court Thursday. If he returns to jail, it may 
not be by choice.
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