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Heroin Abuse Continues To Plague the Ohio Valley

Everyone deserves at least one chance to put his or her life straight after falling into the trap of heroin addiction, so believes James Seibert, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of West Virginia, who spoke to the Wheeling Rotary Club Tuesday.

While Seibert said statistics indicate heroin users have only a 4 percent of beating the addiction, he believes treatment over incarceration should be an option when someone has no previous felony charges against them.

“When these young people come before me, I give them one chance because they remind me of my kids,” Seibert said. “The root cause of the heroin epidemic is not because they are hungry or don’t have two parents in the home, because many of them do. I may be a member of the Neanderthal parents league, but I believe these kids on drugs have too much money and not enough to do.”

He said Chris Riley, a defense attorney in Wheeling, said 90 percent of crimes today are related to substance abuse. Another attorney, Stephen Herndon told Seibert the heroin problem in the Ohio Valley probably started in 1998.

Seibert, who often speaks to high school students about drugs, offers his own chilling statistics when he is talking with them.

“I tell them I have good news and bad news. The good news is that in 10 years, one of you will be in federal prison for selling heroin. You will be in prison, but you will be alive. The bad news is that in 10 years, one of you will be dead from an overdose of heroin,” Seibert said.

The federal magistrate judge also strongly believes use of alcohol and marijuana in many younger people leads to substance abuse issues, including heroin. He said the human brain is not fully developed until age 25, so the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brains of children are devastating.

Federal Department of Homeland Security has tracked the threat assessment of heroin use, and noted that in 2011, there were 4,000 heroin overdose deaths in the U.S. In 2013, that number jumped to 8,000 deaths.

In Ohio County in 2014, there were 12 reported heroin-related deaths, along with 14 in in 2015. While statistics statewide show a decrease in heroin overdose deaths, Seibert attributes that to the growing use of Narcan which can reverse the effects of a drug overdose in many cases.

Heroin is cheap to make and is readily available as compared to other drugs, Seibert said. He said in addition to heroin, marijuana sold today has a much higher purity rate than that of 20 or 30 years ago. In the past, Baltimore, was the heroin hub of the country, and now it is coming into the country via Mexico.

Seibert said a case in Hancock County in 2003 showed heroin was moving in from Pittsburgh to Burgettstown, Pa., and then into the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. In that case, seven people were arrested for distributing heroin. Five of them made it out of prison and two died of drug overdoses.

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