WOSU-TV presents the tenth installment of the Columbus Neighborhoods series. This latest documentary profiles the city of Bexley.
Marion Struggles With Increasing Heroin Problem
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Like many Midwestern cities, Marion has struggled in recent decades. The proud blue-collar town was once a regional industry leader, but times have changed and factories have closed.
As industry moved out, drugs, especially heroin, moved in.
Marion: Then And Now
It’s here, near downtown Marion at the old Power Shovel factory, where some of the world’s largest machinery once rolled off the assembly line to job sites like the Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal and NASA launch pads.
“Very family friendly,” says Bev Ford, who grew up in the city north of Columbus.
“I can remember things like riding my bicycle downtown, ice skating at McKinley Park, and sledding at the Memorial.”
That’s the memorial to Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the U.S. and Marion’s most famous son. Ford says the town started to change as employers like Power Shovel and Quaker Oats shut their doors and laid off workers.
Industry in Marion started to leave and those places were closing down, certainly that was an economic impact, and some of Marion’s economic landscape began to change at that point.
It was about four years ago when police and local activists say heroin started to infiltrate the city by way of Detroit.
A Recovering Addict Tells His Story
If you had to pick one person susceptible to the dangers of heroin, it would probably be Derek Eger.
Eger was no stranger to drugs; he says his mother is an addict. And Eger says he ran with an unsavory crowd. As a high school senior, he says his mom kicked him out of the house.
He turned to pain killers.
“When I first started (heroin), it wasn’t an everyday thing, just like the pills weren’t,” Eager says.
“But then before I knew it, I had to wake up in the morning and the very first thing I had to do was heroin, and I didn’t have it I had to figure out a way to get it. And that’s how everybody else it. That’s why there’s such problems with crime, especially in this town.”
Egger says to get heroin, he had to deal with what he describes as “serious people”, often gang members from cities like Chicago and Detroit.
“We got people coming from out of town, from out of state, coming to this town specifically to sell their drugs and make their money. And there’s people coming here just to get their drugs and to get high.”
The town is being run over.
Recovery Services Overstretched
Dave Wilhelm from the Marion Area Counseling Center says Marion heroin problem has incrased “exponentially” in recent years.
Wilhelm doesn’t know how many people in Marion are addicted to heroin, but he says it’s surely several hundred in a city of about 36,000 people. Treatment programs are full and have waiting lists.
And if people can get accepted, it’s hard to pay for.
“Most of these individuals are single, they’re not eligible for Medicaid, typically they’re unemployed so they have no income. And so getting them the Suboxone program is a very challenging thing.”
And if they can’t get their treatment funded?
“They’re out on their own,” says Wilhelm.
City, Church Leaders Fight Back
City leaders are quick to point out the heroin problem isn’t unique to Marion.
“Heroin is not grown in Marion, it’s not made in Marion,” says Marion Mayor Scott Schertzer. “It comes from outside the United State borders.
“That’s why the national government needs to get involved and cut down the pipeline bringing these drugs into the United States.”
Schertzer says police are doing what they can with increased patrols and undercover work, and a regional drug task force recently arrested more than 30 people. Local faith leaders are also trying to fill the void.
Bev Ford is taking it a step further: She and her husband plan to sell their home and buy a downtown building where they’ll live and run an anti-drug ministry.
“There are all kinds of opportunities that the churches have been presented, and they have risen to that challenge. And we see that as another avenue to do that, to reach out and to be involved in Marion and to bring about a positive change,” says Ford.
Faith is also helping former heroin addict Derek Eger. He goes to church every Sunday, attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and is taking classes at Marion Technical College. He hopes to eventually earn a degree in computer sciences.
But temptation is all around: Eger still lives in the same neighborhood as when he was using.