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How Clark County Is Changing The Heroin Cycle

Ann Thompson
The Clark County Sheriff's Department is taking the lead in changing the way heroin addicts get help and holding dealers responsible.

Three years ago as his jail was filling up with heroin addicts, many of them repeat offenders, Sheriff Gene Kelly and other Clark County officials decided to take a different approach.  They wanted users to permanently stop using the drug and hold dealers responsible for overdose deaths.

The Dealer

The Sheriff is punishing dealers by treating every heroin death as a homicide. Two months ago Clark County had it's first conviction. According to the Dayton Daily News, it was the first time prosecutors pressed charges in a fatal overdose.

The User

In certain cases the county presses for longer sentences so users can get the help they need. First they are evaluated by drug and alcohol services provider McKinley Hall. Two full-time counselors, employed by the county, offer individual and group sessions in jail. Upon release addicts can get a shot of Vivitrol to prevent relapse. The counselors then follow the inmates for a year after they get out of jail to make sure they stay clean.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly says, "When I took this job 29 years ago I said this is not going to be a house of detention. It's going to be a house of correction."

Work in Progress

Sheriff Kelly says many inmates are going to jail four or five times a year. He says, "It's a learned behavior. It's my mom went to jail. My dad went to jail. We have entire families in here. when we have to make a death notification, grandma's up on three, grandpa's on 4 and grandchildren are on two."

A 2014 recidivism study of the jail by Wittenberg University students documented the number of times inmates had been incarcerated, and examined whether this was a learned behavior. More than half of the inmates booked in 2010 had returned by 2013.

"When you can keep someone out of jail for a year that is a a success," according to Kelly. "If we don't break the cycle then we've got another generation that is lost and the epidemic is causing record numbers of fatalities."

Prisoners like Zachary Berry, Emerson Sowers and Aaron Hall know the struggles. Hall was addicted to heroin. "I just don't want to live this life forever and with the (counseling) program it can help all of us change our life around, as long as we want it ourselves."

Sowers, cocaine addict, says, "It's working. It's got reading the Bible, bettering myself. I believe in God now and I'm just trying to be a better person."

Sowers is in this story:


Bob Mims is Director Re-entry Services for Clark County and credits Sheriff Kelly. "The deputies are always willing to work with you and that goes a long way....to know when we come in that day, we're going to be given the help that we need to get to the people to help them."


Gary Sims says he gets a lot out of the inmates he counsels. "The greatest reward for us is when we see the men and women as being incarcerated and turn their lives around."

Sims and Mims report about a 65% success rate.