In July, The Cincinnati Enquirer sent 60 reporters, photographers, and videographers into the community to chronicle an ordinary week during the height of the heroin epidemic in Ohio and Kentucky.
In the interactive feature, “Seven Days of Heroin,” Terry DeMio and Dan Horn piece together a timeline from dozens of videos, transcripts, and field notes. It starts on Monday, July 10, and ends on Sunday, July 16, 2017.
It’s a little after sunrise on the first day of another week, and Cincinnati is waking up again with a heroin problem. So is Covington. And Middletown. And Norwood. And Hamilton. And West Chester Township. And countless other cities and towns across Ohio and Kentucky.
This particular week, July 10 through 16, will turn out to be unexceptional by the dreary standards of what has become the region’s greatest health crisis.
This is normal now, a week like any other. But a terrible week is no less terrible because it is typical. When heroin and synthetic opiates kill one American every 16 minutes, there is little comfort in the routine.
The accounts are harrowing. Vivid, often silent videos punctuate paragraph after paragraph of breathless bodies, emergency dispatches, orphaned children, and death tallies. Loved ones look on as lips turn blue, turn purple. As soon as the reader becomes accustomed to the rhythm of hourly tragedy, each story, like the drug, takes a turn for the worse.
Gaffney, 28, quit cold turkey after learning she was pregnant. She’s living now with the baby at First Step Home, a treatment center in Walnut Hills. They plan to move into an apartment together soon.
After years of addiction, Gaffney’s goals are modest. She wants to raise her child in a normal home. She wants a normal life.
Uebel finishes the examination. “She looks real, real good,” she says.
Gaffney is relieved. She scoops Elliana into her arms and takes her appointment card for her next visit to the clinic in December.
“See you then,” she says.
(Ten days later, Gaffney is dead from a heroin overdose.)
We undertook this work – spreading our staff throughout courtrooms, jails, treatment facilities, finding addicts on the streets and talking to families who have lost love ones – to put the epidemic in proportion. It is massive. It has a direct or indirect impact on every one of us. It doesn’t discriminate by race, gender, age or economic background. Its insidious spread reaches every neighborhood, every township, every city, regardless of demographics. And it is stressing our health-care systems, hospitals and treatment capacity.
We set out to do this project not to affirm or deny differing views on the cost of battling addiction and its impact. Rather, we set out to understand how it unfolds day in and day out. I believe you will find what we found to be staggering. In the weeks ahead, The Enquirer will build on this effort, devoting more attention to actions our communities can take to make a difference against heroin’s horrible impact.
Hence the title of this ongoing project: “Heroin: Reclaiming Lives.”