Huron County Common Pleas Judge Jim Conway calls heroin "the scourge" of the area and the "leading drug of choice."
During sentencing hearings, the judge continually reminds heroin defendants about the dangers to the community of selling the highly addictive drug.
Conway estimates 30 to 50 percent of the drug-related indictments being filed now are for heroin.
"Out of the cases we see, it's the dominant one," the judge said.
"When I was first (elected) judge, heroin was more than half (the cases). It's not now," Conway said.
When asked why that is, Conway said he didn't have "a real answer for that," but he knows local law enforcement agencies have focused on being proactive about pursuing heroin-related cases since about 2005.
"I'd like to think that's a factor," Conway added.
When Conway was the Norwalk law director, he said he started seeing more heroin-related crimes. He held the mayor-appointed position from August 1997 through January 2000 and again from January 2004 through May 11, 2007.
County officials estimate the rising trend in heroin-related crimes started at least eight years ago.
Conway and Huron County Sheriff Dane Howard said many of the property- and larceny-related crimes in Huron County are directly tied to heroin addictions. They said suspects steal items from someone's home so they can turn around and sell them for cash they can use to buy more drugs.
Howard said his office hasn't steered away from the campaign promise he made about five years ago -- to focus on drug crimes.
"We actively enforce the law. We bring the traffickers and abusers before the court," he said.
"Some people say drug (offenses) are victimless crimes. That's not remotely true," Howard said. "The reality is the vast majority of the victims of larceny-based crimes are victims (of) an addict who is supporting their habit."
When asked why heroin is the drug of choice, Conway gave three reasons: It's readily available, "very addictive" and inexpensive. A local drug investigator estimates a balloon, or dose, of heroin goes for $25-$30 in Huron County.
"It's far less expensive now than what it was," Conway said.
To combat the heroin problem, Conway said he thinks long-term treatment, education in schools and imprisonment are the most beneficial.
"It either needs to be (a) locked-down facility or prison," the judge said.
However, a change in state law prevents judges from sentencing first-time felons who are charged with drug-related fourth- and fifth-degree felonies to prison. That law went into effect in 2011.
From 2007-2011 -- essentially the first part of Conway's first term, the judge said he had good success in sending defendants to prison for a short time before releasing them early, often into a substance treatment center. The situation is nicknamed "shock probation."
"That's not available to us (now) because of the change in law," Conway said. "Now we have to put them on community control or probation."
Those community control sanctions could include local jail time or four to six months in a community-based corrections facility. A CBCF is a form of prison which focuses on substance abuse treatment and education.
Without defendants getting significant time in prison or a CBCF, Conway said the courts see the same people "come back relatively quickly."
Another problem the judge cited is that without that imprisonment time, a first-time heroin offender usually continues to sell or use the drug after he or she is released.
"It's restricting the ability (of police) to stem the flow because essentially, they have to catch them twice," Conway said.
The judge said the defendants who are the most successful at beating their addiction are "the ones who are interested in their own recovery." Conway said the people who undergo substance abuse treatment only because it's a court order don't have the same level of success.
"Most of the ones who come to us with a heroin addiction come into it when they are 19 or 20 (years old)," the judge said. "It can come at any age, really. We've had 50-year-old heroin addicts."