Small-town Wellington has big-time drug problem

Deaths, overdoses, thefts linked to addiction, safety forces say

By Catherine Gabe -

Wake up and face it — Wellington has drug problems.

Since November there have been six heroin/opiate overdoses, which resulted in three deaths. Drugs have played a role in crashes and thefts. Marijuana played a role in a drivc-by shooting last May at a Barker Street home, as well as a robbery, homicide, and arson case in August at a Brighton Township home, police said.

“We have to get parents, or friends, or somebody to understand that if you don’t get them help or get them into the court system, you’re probably going to bury them,” said village police chief Tim Barfield.

He recently gathered fire and other safety officials to an impromptu meeting to discuss the village’s drug problems with the Enterprise.

“We have agreed that we’re working on these drug cases together: police, EMS, fire,” Barfield said. “We are going to take an aggressive stance on this. This is a social problem that is bigger than everybody in this room. It’s one of those quiet things that no one talks about, but everybody knows.”

“People are coming to Wellington thinking this is an old slice of apple pie down here — you know, old-fashioned America — but drugs are running rampant here,” said fire chief Mike Wetherbee.

The South Lorain County Ambulance District administered naloxone nine times in 2015 taking people from “unresponsive to talking at the hospital,” said Dave Knapp, executive director. The aerosol medication can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose.

Thefts and burglaries are on the rise, some of which may be related to trying to support drug habits. “More than likely the rise in crime has strongly been associated with drugs,” Barfield said. Local joggers and some young children have even come across needles.

“Things have changed in the past two years,” said police Lt. Jeffrey Shelton.

“A lot of our issues down here in the southern part of the county and northern Ashland County is that the kids are going to Cleveland, Lorain, Elyria,” he said. “They’re picking their heroin up and they’re getting extra to come down and deal and they are getting so many people hooked in the area there’s a steady flow now of drugs being readily available from the suppliers up north.”

The heroin issue is so prevalent that “it’s gotten to the point where my guys listen and if they’re on patrol or if the squad or fire department goes on a call involving a certain age group we respond because we know it’s drug-related,” said Shelton.

If someone is between 16 and 28 and reports difficulty breathing, “the first thing that pops into your mind is drugs,” said Wetherbee. “It’s a shame to assume they’ve done something wrong.”

Shelton said at the schools “no drugs have been found when we’ve run the drug dogs.” There have been some incidents in the parking lot with marijuana, he said. He applauded the schools for having a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs.

And the same is true with law enforcement. “We all know we’re never going to be able to stop it, but at least we can contain it with the three departments working together,” said Shelton. “And if you’re a drug dealer, we’re coming after you. It’s zero tolerance.”

“What I hope is that we make people aware,” Barfield said. “You can’t shut up anymore because people are dying or someone else may pay the price, some little child, or a safety worker. The risk to other people is too great.”

Signs that someone may be using heroin include wearing long sleeves despite hot weather to cover track marks; flu-like symptoms that in a manner of 10 minutes go from “near death-like symptoms of flu to acting normal and functioning”; and rapid weight loss. Other signs to watch for are syringes, belts or rubber hoses, or someone nodding off.

The disease affects everyone.

“Heroin is not a personal problem. Heroin is a problem that affects everybody involved,” Wetherbee said. “There is just not one victim, there are countless victims in heroin addiction. They don’t just suffer from the final death, they suffer all along. They suffer through the addiction, they suffer through the rehabs, they suffer through the thefts and the deceit and the lying. There are countless victims, not just the person who is addicted.”

Wellington’s safety officials are interested in holding more public forums like “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which focused last fall on risky behaviors. They were disappointed that more parents didn’t attend.

“We’ve got to light a fire under people that need to care,” Barfield said.

Shelton said the epidemic is impacting safety forces. “The families aren’t the only victims when someone dies,” he said. “You have got to remember that safety service people are there. This is turning into day-in and day-out that we are facing more of this than we are used to and it starts to take a toll on us, too.”

Catherine Gabe can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @ReporterGabe on Twitter.

Deaths, overdoses, thefts linked to addiction, safety forces say

By Catherine Gabe