Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Drugs rob couple of son, grandson in four-day span

Sayler Park family feels ravages of heroin addiction

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Ramona and Thomas Loper
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
Thomas and Ramona Loper's twin tragedies began with the phone call four days after Christmas.

Their 39-year-old son had died from a drug overdose, the Sayler Park couple was told. Friends told the Lopers their son had gone to sleep after taking heroin and never awakened. "It was a heartbreaker for us because he had two children," Thomas Loper says of his son, Thomas J. Loper Jr., who died in his Westwood home on his little boy's 7th birthday.

Four days later, the heartache worsened. Just hours after they buried their son, the Lopers learned their oldest grandson had died of a drug overdose, too.

Ralph Jones, 20, had been a pallbearer at "Uncle Tommy's" funeral, then had gone home with a girlfriend. She told the Lopers that Jones overdosed on methadone, a drug long valued for treating heroin addiction.

"These kids don't realize how much it hurts the people they leave behind," Thomas Loper says.

"It is still killing my wife and I. We lost our only son and our oldest grandson within four days."

Earl Siegel, a pharmacist and co-director of the region's Drug and Poison Information Center, says deaths from heroin and synthetic opiates began increasing dramatically about four years ago.

Hamilton County recorded 10 such fatal overdoses in the five years ending in 1997, Siegel says. By comparison, 81 people died from overdoses of heroin or synthetic opiates in Hamilton County from 1998 through 2002.

Fifty-four of the deaths since 1998 were from heroin overdoses, five times the number from the previous five years.

"Four or five years ago we noticed heroin in town got a lot more potent," Siegel says.

"The result was stronger addictions and more addicts. Everyone's radar screen shows problems related to opioid abuse."

Two years ago, authorities clamped down on OxyContin. Illegal users of that prescription drug increasingly turned to heroin, Siegel says.

The Lopers say they've learned a lot about heroin abuse in the weeks and months since their family members' deaths.

"It is easy to get," Ramona Loper says. "You don't even have to have money. You can trade TVs, video games and even clothes for heroin."

She says her son, who worked for the Cincinnati Parks Department, had long fought a drug problem.

He began using heroin two or three years ago, she says.

"My son was a good guy," Ramona Loper says. "He never hurt anyone but himself."


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