Cincinnati's heroin epidemic is just that, a public health issue that's costing the tri-state area millions of dollars and ruining tens of thousands of lives. Dan Horn and Terry DeMio at the Cincinnati Enquirer report on this area's biggest drug problem, and how lawmakers and police have only made it worse. If you want to see why America has lost the War on Drugs, the story of Samantha Gibson and other addicts is where you want to start looking for answers.
Jails are housing thousands of addicts, but they lack the resources to provide effective drug treatment. Most courts still insist on zero-tolerance rules that bounce heroin users from the streets to jail and back again. And long-term treatment remains a crapshoot for addicts and their families, who often can't find, or can't afford, quality care.
"Our entire approach to this is wrong," says Dr. Mina "Mike" Kalfas, a certified addiction expert and family physician in Northern Kentucky. "Our approach as a society has failed miserably."
For too long, Kalfas says, policy makers treated the heroin epidemic as a law enforcement problem and put the onus on addicts to get clean or go to jail.
But heroin is as complicated as it is cruel. It comes with an intense physical addiction that alters brain chemistry and punishes those who try to stop using it with brutal withdrawal symptoms.
Threats and punishment alone don't work because addicts want heroin more than anything else. More than their jobs, their homes, their health or even their children.
That's why more than 13,000 heroin users spent time in Greater Cincinnati jails last year, and why more than 300 ended up in the morgue.
It's also why Kalfas and others now say new approaches are needed, before taxpayers spend more money and families bury more overdose victims.
"Heroin," Synan says, "is not something you can arrest your way out of."
Gibson, a mother of three from Newport, is a case in point. She is no stranger to the system. Police have arrested her. Judges have sentenced her. Jails have locked her up. Hospitals have patched her wounds. Treatment centers have put her on waiting lists. Children's services has taken her kids. Paramedics have restarted her heart after an overdose.
Society is heavily invested in her. Thousands of dollars already have been spent.
Yet here she sits, in jail again, biding her time until her next fix.
Gibson runs her fingers over her scarred left hand and crosses her legs. It's been several hours since she shot up. She's getting impatient.
"I can't get through the day without heroin," she says.
Of course, the reality is we do pay. All of us. And some pay a very final price.