Getting Answers: Northeast Ohio's top reporting drug schools exposed

Woman shares her experience with drugs
Memorial Fred DiMarco made for his son Nick
Memorial Fred DiMarco made for his son Nick

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Experts told Cleveland 19 that Northeast Ohio's drug problem is the worst it's ever been, "it's like watching a runaway train and you can't stop it."

Drug overdose deaths have become the leading cause of injury deaths in the state and the country.

Each one of those deaths is more than just a statistic, each represents a person with a life and loved ones.

"We're almost like the living dead because we live it every day," said Fred DiMarco. His son Nick died of a fentanyl laced heroin overdose at the age of 18.

Each day in the United States, more than 120 people die as a result of a drug overdose.  In Cuyahoga County, according to the Medical Examiner's office, in the first 90 days of 2016, 107 people died of heroin and fentanyl overdoses.

The majority of drug overdose fatality victims are white males over the age of 20, Cleveland 19 uncovered that about a quarter of the total victims are people, both men and women, in their twenties or younger.

Andrea Geraci is a recovering heroin addict herself. Her long-time boyfriend, and the father of her baby, is one of the people who died of a heroin overdose this year in Cuyahoga County.  He was just 25.

Geraci told Cleveland 19 she thinks if she didn't get clean, that there's a good chance she would have overdosed as well.

She explained to Cleveland 19 that she started experimenting with drugs while a freshman at Westlake High School.

"I first started drinking and smoking marijuana, and then other things like the pills and all that," said Geraci.  "I got involved with the Heroin [as a sophomore]. It was in the school I was going to, so it was kind of like everyone was doing it and I tried it, and that's when I liked it."

She described the first time she saw someone inject heroin.

"When I was a freshman, the first time I saw anyone ever do it that way. It did - it terrified me. I was like, 'how?' I didn't understand how someone would want to do that and then I don't know. I was with a group of people one day my junior year and it was offered to me and I tried it," said Geraci.

She said at that point, just two years after she started taking pills, when confronted with the needle she didn't hesitate.

She told Cleveland 19 she dropped out of school her junior year, but got in trouble with the law and was forced to re-enroll.

"As soon as I graduated it was like, I wasn't living with my mom anymore and it just everything went downhill from there," said Geraci.  "My mindset was, 'I'm not hurting anyone but myself, so why do you care what I do? I'm not hurting you,' but realistically I was. I mean she's my mom, like I was hurting her very bad I just didn't see it that way."

The Ohio Department of Education, ODE, requires all elementary and high school districts to report discipline data at the end of the school year through Ohio's EMIS data collection system. The data is used to create the discipline section of Ohio's report card. All of the data can be broken down by school year, district, and building on the Ohio Department of Education's website.

Cleveland 19 News searched every public school district in N.E. Ohio and found 23 school district where 10 or more disciplinary incidents were reported in the "Use/Possession of Other Drugs" category. This category documents instances for drugs other than alcohol and tobacco. According to the ODE, this information illustrates instances of use of possession of marijuana, opiates, prescription drugs and heroin among others. 

Cleveland 19 searched through the ODE’s data and created a list of Northeast Ohio's top schools that reporting drug instances. These are the schools reporting 10 or more drug discipline incidents for the 2014-2015 school year. We based our rankings on discipline incident reports per district size.

If you would like to see other discipline reports for your school district, click this link and select Discipline by District, the school year, and district. Then click the Run Report button. 

Fred DiMarco's son Nick also started using heroin in high school.

"We thought he was just drinking or smoking pot because, again, he's on the honor roll. He's working out, he's doing all the things we feel are the right things," said Fred DiMarco.

Every second of every day he relives his son's death, and what he could have done differently.

Nick was graduated with honors from North Olmsted High School.  He was athletic and outgoing, a young man seemingly with everything going for him.

His dad said underneath the surface, his family didn't realize that Nick was struggling.

"We later find out that Nick had anxiety issues, depression issues that were masked by some of the things, how he acted," said Fred DiMarco.

They learned his son's junior year that he was doing more than just "occasional drinking or smoking pot."

Once he learned about his son's drug addiction, he said he still didn't understand it. He didn't understand that the drug hijacked his son's brain.

He said he thought, "he's not going to do heroin. People are dying everyday who would stick a needle in their arm knowing that this could kill me? He's not going to do it anymore," said Fred DiMarco.

He shared a conversation that he had with his son with Cleveland 19.

"He one day told me he says, 'dad,' he goes, 'I hate it. I can't stand it what it does. What I become. But the other half of me, if somebody said to me I am going to put you in a room for the rest of your life you'll never see your family or friends again,' he says, 'I'd do it in a heartbeat,'" said Fred DiMarco.

Fred DiMarco said he finally understood 1:20 in the morning of March 9, 2015.  Nick overdosed and died in the bathroom of his parents' home. He was found by his twin brother with a needle in his arm. He was killed, as so many have been, by a deadly mix of heroin and Fentanyl. Fred says he didn't know it at the time but his was buying the cheap, easy to find drug at a hotel room right across from his office.

Now, Fred DiMarco remembers his son through a memorial in his backyard. He tries to keep his son's memory alive. He also speaks to others about addiction, he said, so no other family has to go through the pain his has.

Drug Education in Schools

The Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Attorney General's office offers a variety of drug programs to schools. To view a listing of programs and grants available to schools for drug education, click here.

About the Drugs

Controlled Prescription Drugs (CPDs) - CPD availability and abuse will continue to pose a significant drug threat to the United States. The implementation of legislation and successful law enforcement efforts have proved effective in various areas of the country. It's now harder to obtain a prescription for narcotics or opiates.

Fentanyl - is a Scheduled II synthetic opioid that is approximately 80-100 times stronger than morphine, and 25-40 times more potent have made it an attractive drug for abusers. Fentanyl is abused for it's strong opioid properties. It provides users with an intense, albeit short-term high and temporary feelings of euphoria. Adverse effects of fentanyl abuse include a dangerous reduction in respiration and blood pressure, nausea, fainting, seizures and death.

Saving Lives

Naloxone (Narcan) - In response to increasing overdoses caused by the use of heroin and other opioid, many law enforcement agencies are training officers to administer Naloxone, a prescription drug can reverse the effects of opioid overdose, and ensure follow-up medical attention. Naloxone can be nasally-administered and generally has no adverse effect if administered to a person who is not suffering from opioid overdose.

Getting Help/ Seeking Treatment There are locations all over Northeast Ohio where addicts, or those who think they may have a problem can seek help. The list of locations can be found here.

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