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Drug lab ponders levy amid worsening opioid epidemic

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ELYRIA — With the opioid crisis worsening by the year, the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County is considering whether to again ask voters for money to help fund treatment programs.

“The issue hasn’t changed,” Elaine Georgas, the board’s president, said Wednesday. “In fact, it’s gotten worse.”

Last year, voters rejected a 1.2-mill levy that would have generated about $7.8 million annually. The board is looking at levies ranging from 1 mill to 1.5 mills over a five- or 10-year period that would appear on the November ballot.

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County Administrator Jim Cordes said county commissioners also are considering whether to ask voters for additional funding for the Lorain County Crime Lab, where drugs seized by law enforcement are tested. Voters also rejected a 0.16-mill levy that would have brought in about $1 million that would have been split between the Crime Lab and county Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans’ office.

Crime Lab director Emmanuel de Leon said the number of tests his staff has tested has grown, and the lab is on track for a record year in 2017.

In 2015, the lab tested 1,342 bags of drugs submitted by law enforcement agencies in the county, according to figures provided by de Leon. Last year the lab tested 1,919.

Between January and March of this year, the lab already has tested 614 bags of drugs, de Leon said.

He said the continued increase shows that the drug problem isn’t going away, but also that police are trying to deal with the issue.

“First, drugs coming into Lorain County are suddenly increasing, and two, the law enforcement agencies in Lorain County are working harder than ever,” he said.

It’s a concern shared by county sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh, commander of the Lorain County Drug Task Force. Through the end of March, he said, there have been 229 reported overdoses, including 40 confirmed overdose deaths.

There were about 140 overdose deaths in 2016, Evans has said.

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“Obviously, we have a severe problem,” Cavanaugh said.

The Crime Lab’s statistics also show that the problem affects every county community and law enforcement agency.

Lorain police forwarded the largest amount of drugs to the lab last year for testing, sending 646 bags from 390 drug cases. Elyria police followed with 312 cases that saw 497 bags tested, according to the figures.

The Sheriff’s Office, which provides law enforcement services in the townships, sent 319 bags of drugs to the lab from 187 cases. North Ridgeville police sent 144 bags from 86 cases, while Amherst sent 119 bags from 53 cases. South Amherst sent 1 bag of suspected drugs for testing, the lowest rate of lab usage in the county.

Amherst police Sgt. Michael Murphy said those numbers aren’t surprising. He said there is some bleedover from neighboring Lorain, but Amherst also has Interstate 90 running through the community as well as some businesses that are open all night.

But he also said Amherst has its own drug users and even some drug dealers that police are doing their best to take off the streets.

“We definitely preach to our guys to crack down on this and try to get it at even the lowest levels,” Murphy said.

De Leon said heroin continues to be a problem, but there are other even more powerful drugs such as fentanyl and its derivatives that show up in his lab with great regularity. He said cocaine also is showing up more often as are mixtures of drugs and designer drugs.

He said sometimes drug users don’t even know what they’re putting in their bodies.

“It’s just like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get,” de Leon said.

Georgas said if the levy does go to the ballot and get approved it will help people get the treatment they need, not only for those addicted to opioids, but also other drugs.

“We can’t just look at the opioid epidemic, we need to look at all drug use,” she said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.



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