Heroin highway: Major artery cutting through Cincinnati is also a major pipeline for dealers

CINCINNATI -- A major artery cutting through Cincinnati is also a major pipeline for dealers to traffic heroin hundreds of miles north and south.

The lanes of I-75 -- known by some as the "heroin highway" -- help fuel the epidemic growing in major cities like Cincinnati. It's also a path for drugs to enter smaller communities.

Monitoring drug movement on I-75 is a challenge for law enforcement from metro areas to small rural communities.

An hour south of Cincinnati in Grant County, Kentucky, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Brian Maines said the problem rolling in from the highway is "really frustrating."

"They're traveling to Cincinnati. They're getting their heroin. They're pulling over somewhere between Cincinnati and here and using it, so by the time they get here [they're] going into the overdose phase where everything's starting to shut down," Maines said.

Maines and his entire team are now prepared to do more than make arrests -- they revive people who overdose. Nine people have overdosed in Grant County so far this year, including one in the past week.

That might not seem like a lot compared to 174 overdoses and three deaths in Hamilton County between Aug. 19 and Aug. 24, but it is a lot for a county with fewer than 30,000 residents.

"I can't imagine wanting to use again after overdosing, but we see it every day," Maines said.

No one really knows how much heroin is flowing up and down highways that connect Grant County to Cincinnati and larger cities like Detroit and Chicago. The source of the heroin is also still a mystery for law enforcement.

Unlike Hamilton County, Grant County doesn't have a drug task force. But the pastor of Sherman Baptist Church, which isn't far from the interstate, is starting one.

"We need to find the source," Pastor Bob Tarasiak said. "You're not going to get anywhere by getting the little fish."

Part of the problem is that heroin is inexpensive, Tarasiak said. Just $10 can get someone high.

Maines said there's a risk for authorities responding, too.

"With the fentanyl and this elephant tranquilizer that they're talking about, you don't know if it's going to absorb through your skin and cause you to OD as well," he said.

Since drug traffic is still moving on down the road, Maines also knows he'll give more doses of Narcan until it stops.

"We're doing it for the family and for that person hoping that they'll get help," he said.

Maines and Tarasiak said the only way to get a handle on the epidemic is through education, and by involving the community in fighting in.

RELATED: See WCPO's special coverage of the heroin epidemic in the Tri-State.

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