Gov. Ted Strickland, in an executive order issued last week creating a statewide task force to deal with it, said prescription drug abuse has risen to an “epidemic” stage in Ohio.
Whether the drugs come by prescription or by a drug dealer on the street, the effects of the abuse are felt in every aspect of the community, and one of those effects is prostitution.
“Young girls on the street are turning tricks to feed their addiction,” said Norma Ryan. “Arrest them and they’re back on the street shortly. But what we’re seeing now is human trafficking. Drug dealers are becoming pimps. It’s safer. They don’t take a chance on getting shot, and they make more money. A good pimp can make $600,000 a year.”
Ryan’s comments were made to members of Portsmouth’s Weed & Seed Program Monday evening at the Portsmouth Public Library. She and Joanne Hale came from Dayton to share how they have helped organize a successful anti-prostitution initiative for the Weed & Seed program there.
It was in 2000, she said, that a stray bullet from a nearby shooting entered the home of a resident and led community activists to team up with Dayton police, local churches and social service organizations to reduce the factors leading to crime in particular neighborhoods.
She said the Dayton Weed & Seed target area covers 2.2 miles in the southeastern part of the city and encompasses about 10,000 people, 3,000 to 4,000 of them children, in the Burkhardt-Springfield, Huffman Historic, Newcom Plain and St. Anne’s Historic neighborhoods.
The Portsmouth group started started its program last year in an effort to reduce crime and drug abuse in a targeted area of the city where most of it takes place.
Weed & Seed is a U.S. Department of Justice program that hopes to get law enforcement, prosecutors and residents working together to “weed out” criminals who take part in violent crime and drug abuse.
It’s not a grant program, but federal money of up to $1 million can be made available for some programs. The money can be used to guide the lawbreakers and abusers to rehabilitation or prevent them from returning to the targeted areas, and “seeding” human services and neighborhood revitalization into the targeted areas.
Hale said Dayton received its first funding in 2004.
“When we started looking at human trafficking we were advised that people don’t care much about trying to help hookers, but if you want to get churches and the community as a whole involved, then start with getting rid of human trafficking,” Hale said.
Asked by Hale what the No. 1 problem in Portsmouth is, John Valentine, professor at Shawnee State University and a member of the Portsmouth Weed & Seed steering committee, said it is prescription drug abuse — “although prostitution ranks right up there with it.”
Drug addiction, Valentine said, leads to people breaking into parked cars and other violations in order to get money for another “high.”
“Even if we were to come up with new manufacturing jobs here, we have a high percentage of potential workers who can’t pass a blood test — won’t even fill out an application for that reason,” Valentine said.
Proper counseling of young prostitutes can help to get them to leave it behind, Hale said.
As an example, she said: “If you come out of the military on the normal discharge, you may need a certain type of counseling to help you back into civilian life, but if come out of the military after having been a POW, then you need a far different type of counseling.”
“No one wants to work with the prostitute. Often times they’ve been neglected or abused as a child. But once these young girls learn that we’re not out to humiliate them, but to educate them, some will turn away from the life they’ve been living,” Hale said.
“It requires patience,” Ryan said. “Get the community behind you and work it one block at a time.”
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.