COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Some states, including Ohio, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Ohio:
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine calls heroin overdoses an “epidemic” contributing to as many as 11 fatal overdoses a week. In Cleveland, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach calls the problem a public health crisis. Emergency medical responders say calls about heroin-related overdoses are a daily occurrence, while police say an increasing amount of crime such as thefts and burglaries is tied to heroin addicts trying to pay for their next hit.
Heroin-related overdoses killed 426 people in Ohio in 2011, the most recent year for which data was available, up from 338 the previous year, according to state health officials. Just in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, 195 people died in 2013 of heroin-related overdoses, shattering the former record of 161, set in 2012, the county medical examiner says. And in some of those deaths, the powerful painkiller fentanyl also was detected. Among Ohio drug users, 12.5 percent in 2011 named heroin as their drug of choice, up from 5.8 percent in 2004. Several heroin busts in recent months have charged dozens of individuals in cities across Ohio, including Circleville south of Columbus, Marion in north-central Ohio, and Cleveland. Addicts in treatment and substance abuse counselors agree heroin is the easiest drug to get in Ohio now.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law in March that allows friends or family members of addicts to administer the drug overdose antidote, naloxone, marketed as Narcan, without the fear of prosecution. DeWine has created a heroin unit of investigators, lawyers and drug abuse awareness specialists to tackle crime, addiction and overdose deaths. Dettelbach held a heroin summit in November with the Cleveland Clinic to discuss solutions, with 600 people in attendance. Laws restricting the prescribing of painkillers may be slowing heroin abuse in some places by limiting the number of people who become hooked on painkillers before switching to heroin.