In his 14 years as a narcotics investigator, Sgt. Larry McLaughlin has seen a significant shift in patterns of drug use. When he started out, he recalls, most of his arrests were for selling or using crack cocaine. Now they are for opioids or heroin.
McLaughlin is part of a drug task force in Mahoning County, Ohio, which includes Youngstown and several other blue-collar communities. “Heroin and opioids have made a huge impact around here,” he says. “It’s really leading the charge as far as deaths, thefts, property crimes in this area,” he says.
The county’s death toll from drug overdoses has been steadily rising in recent years—from 61 in 2015 to 93 in 2016, and by mid-May was on track to surpass 100 for 2017. That’s due in part, McLaughlin says, to the fact that some heroin now also comes laced with the powerful but deadly analgesics fentanyl and carfentanyl.
McLaughlin has advice for physicians who prescribe opioids “Give your patients quality time and quality treatment,” he says. “If there are alternatives, seek those. And follow up to make sure they’re using [the medications] correctly, and if they’re not, cut them off immediately.
“Doctors took an oath to preserve and defend people’s lives, just like I did,” he adds. “Don’t just push them through your office, help to guide them through life.”
OxyContins were the first opioids to appear in his jurisdiction, McLaughlin says, and when they did they spread rapidly. The fact that they cost as much as $65 per pill, led to other problems. “I don’t care what you do for a living, if you’re taking four or five at a time multiple times a day, that’s going to add up to quite a bit of money in a hurry,” he notes.