PUTNAM COUNTY — “Actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the current face of heroin,” said Ohio Governor John Kasich during a speech to the Ohio Newspaper Association on Feb. 6. “We have a heroin epidemic in this state, in every county, in every suburb.”

Hoffman died on Feb. 2 in New York City following a heroin overdose. In Hoffman, the nation sees the loss of a gifted actor. But this is not the image that usually comes to mind when one thinks of a heroin addict, much less any substance abuser. Television and film give us images of skeletal degenerates who shoot up to get their euphoric fix. We don’t see the decline of a person who gets hooked on heroin.

“Those that are truly addicted will take it simply not to feel bad because of the withdrawal. They’ll just take it to be normal again,” explained Aaron Baumgartner, director of Pathways Counseling Center, Ottawa.

Heroin, an opiate drug derived from the poppy plant, is a stimulant that produces euphoria. Though it has some medical applications, recreational use is illegal in the United States. In decades past, heroin was considered an elite drug. Think John Lennon, River Phoenix and Janis Joplin. Now the drug is relatively cheap, according to Doug Engel, Chief Deputy, Defiance County Sheriff’s Office. He’s also the commander of a multi-area narcotics task force which covers Putnam, Defiance, Williams and Fulton counties.

“Actually the heroin is relatively cheap nowadays. It’s approximately anywhere from $40 to $80 a gram,” said Engel. “It depends on the quality and the quantity of it. You can buy an injection, or a loaded syringe, off the streets. Or you can buy the powder. It’s sold in multiple ways.”

Engel and his fellow officers have seen an upswing in heroin use the last two to three years. “We’re seeing a lot more of it coming into the community. A lot of it is being abused by the persons who had been abusing prescription opiates. Now they’re turning to using heroin because of law changes with prescription medications.”

Engel explained that physicians and pharmacies perform checks through the Ohio Automated RX Reporting System. OARRS is a statewide pharmacy database that is operated by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Through OARRs, people who can legally prescribe medications are able to see what others are prescribing to an individual patient.

But heroin is becoming more readily available in the Northwest Ohio community through illegal channels, according to Engel.

“It comes into our nation through various ports. The transportation of it, trafficking of it has increased. It’s coming in from Mexico, to Texas up through Northwest Ohio. It comes through Columbus, Dayton, Findlay, Toledo, Chicago, Fort Wayne Detroit and through here,” said Engel. When heroin arrives in the area, age doesn’t seem to be a factor in its use, although the officer did note, “If I had to pick a specific age group, I would say between 14 to 30.”

He reported that heroin-related arrests are increasing in the region. According to Putnam County Common Pleas Court records, in 2013 there were seven drug trafficking or possession cases involving marijuana, five involving cocaine and five that in which the drug was not specified. There were two cases involving heroin. The difference between these two cases and those that involved marijuana or cocaine is that when heroin was noted as the drug, the record also included charges of theft and receiving stolen property.

Baumgartner feels that the physical pain of withdrawal is what pushes people into theft, even prostitution. He explained that a heroin supplier, a “pusher”, will get individuals addicted to the drug so that the addicts may be prostituted. “There’s some concern that it’s also involved in the human trafficking concern that the state has.”