Standing near the spot where her son received his high school diploma in 1997, Mary Juarez told the story of how her child lost his life to drugs.
Juarez’s son Marjoe Gineman died of an overdose in 2010, just a few days after his 31st birthday and that tragedy led Mary and husband Victor to create a ministry reaching out to the men and women caught up in heroin addiction and their families who have to deal with the consequences.
Around 80 people came to the Edgerton Community Center auditorium July 27 to listen to the couple as they shared their experiences and to three recovering addicts and there tales of a path toward sobriety.
The stories gave a face to an epidemic sweeping the state.
The numbers are startling. In 2001, the state reported 81 heroin overdose deaths. By 2014, that had risen to 1,177. The number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio has risen from 411 in 2000 to 2,482 in 2014.
Six people die every day from a drug overdose in Ohio.
Nationally, 47,055 people died from a drug overdose in 2014. Ohio now ranks second in such deaths.
The story of Marjoe was typical. His mom described him as a funny kid growing up in a Christian home in Edgerton. He was on the middle school track team and his school photos showed a smiling face through the seventh grade.
Then he entered “the dark years,” Mary Juarez said of a time that began Marjoe was 14. His demeanor changed as did his friends. She caught him drinking three months after her mother died.
In a slide show presentation, Mary showed a photo of Marjoe graduating from Edgerton High School in 1997 in the same gym where she was talking. Coming here to give this presentation was something she had always wanted to do.
In the adult world, Marjoe began shooting heroin at age 21 and wrote in a journal that he “didn’t want to feel this way anymore.” He later moved to Indiana to live with dad (the couple had divorced when Marjoe was younger.)
In 2009, he overdosed on prescription pills and Mary showed a photo of him on his first night in rehab. He was sullen. Six months later a smile had returned to his face.
He graduated from rehab in January 2010 and life looked brighter. But on April 18, his girlfriend called Mary at 4:15 a.m. and said Marjoe was not responsive. An hour later he was dead.
He had used again and this time the dosage was fatal.
But the story didn’t end there. Mary said she became a “mom on a mission,” and started Never Let Go. She wants to reach the “beautiful souls,” who are caught up in addiction and restore them.
Mary’s husband Victor Juarez talked of his life with Marjoe and his failure to understand addiction. After years of a strained relationship with his stepson, he and Marjoe began to reconcile during the last round of rehab.
But Marjoe’s death inspired him to team with Mary on the ministry. For him, heroin is a threat to the nation.
“Heroin to me is like ISIS,” Victor said.
Victor shared some images of local men who had died from heroin overdoses. They ranged in age from 20-34. Most had great starts in life, but fell victim to heroin’s clutches.
Later, a married couple, both of whom are recovering addicts, shared their stories and what the ministry means to them.
Then there was Justin, a man with a promising future as a teacher, whose life was turned upside down after a car crash led to him becoming addicted to pain medication.
That turned into heroin, first as a powder snorted through the nose and then shot into his veins.
The addiction cost him his job and his certification. Most of family cut him off, except for his mom. Now after rehab, he has been clean for a year and is trying to mend fences and rebuild his life.
Linda McDonald of the Williams County Drug Court talked about the work done there to get people off drugs. Those involved are subjected to daily drug tests.
They have an incentive not to be in Drug Court and have to be clean for 90 days. Any misstep starts the clock over. They learn how to deal with stress in healthful ways and how to change their habits, recreation choices and jobs (or getting one).
The participants may be self-destructive, but when they are clean and sober, can be the nicest people in the world, McDonald said.
The results are there.
“We did not lose one person last year to overdoses,” she said.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Dave Engel of the MAN (Multi-Area Narcotics) Unit talked about what his agency sees and is doing. The scope of the problem is wide, he said
“Last year the youngest person involved was in the third grade and the oldest heroin overdose was 62,” Engel said. “This is the worst epidemic I have seen in my 32 years at the sheriff department.”
There aren’t enough hospital beds or jail beds to stem the tide, Engel said. The community has to work in conjunction with the police to solve this problem.
At the CCNO, there are on average 50-52 people detoxing from heroin on a daily basis, Engel said.
“We are in trouble, we realize that,” Engel said.
The drugs are coming in from places like Toledo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and other places. The drug runners know every possible route from the big cities to the local neighborhoods.
New threats include synthetic Fentanyl from Russia that is 30 times more powerful than the real thing. Five overdose deaths in northwest Ohio have been attributed to the drug.
“In its pure form it’s instant death,” Engel said.
James Pruitt may be reached at