Heroin has reached epidemic levels in Cuyahoga County

Kush Azrael | 5/1/2014, 9:23 a.m.
Although most of the new users are from the suburbs and roughly half of the deaths are too, most of ...

Heroin has become a plague in Cleveland and the surrounding areas. Last year we saw 195 heroin related deaths. That’s up from 161 in 2012 and 107 in 2011.

Many heroin addicts began their descent into the dark world of heroin addiction through the use of pain killers like OxyContin only to soon find out that heroin is much cheaper and more readily available. A dose of heroin goes for $20 on the streets while on OxyContin pill will easily go for $75.

“This is a statewide and nationwide crisis, and Cuyahoga County has been hard hit, but is leading the way in meeting this epidemic head on,” said US Attorney Steve Dettlebach.

“Nobody starts out wanting to be a heroin addict, but once people are hooked on the pills – which can cost 10 times as much as heroin- they eventually run out of money and or access to the pills, and they switch to heroin.” Dettlebach also said that’s what they’ve seen in numerous cases and from people in recovery.

Not only has Cleveland seen an increase in heroin use and overdoses, but the suburbs as well.

“Like so many of my partners working in the field, it was my hope that 2013 would see the number of heroin fatalities decrease, but that was not the case,” said Cuyahoga County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson.

In the past several years there have been several major drug busts in Cleveland. Even though law enforcement has seized large amounts of heroin in the Cleveland area it has hardly been enough to slow the supply to the area.

“We cannot just arrest our way out of this problem. We need enforcement, but we truly need an “all of the above” approach to combat the heroin problem, said Dettelbach. “Prevention, treatment, education and healthcare all have to be involved.” As noted by medical professionals, soon as one begins to use heroin, a physical need arises. The user then has to continue abusing the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Treatment counselors say that the most effective treatment for heroin addiction is methadone agonist therapy.

People no longer see heroin users as some creepy older person sitting in dark hallways injecting the drug. It is more socially acceptable in drug culture, which is attracting younger people. Even teenagers are prone to snort the drug. However middle aged White males are still the most prevalent drug addicts. In 2012 they were roughly 39 of the 161 heroin deaths in Cuyahoga County.

Although most of the new users are from the suburbs and roughly half of the deaths are too, most of the heroin is found in the inner city of Cleveland.

There used to be a stereotype of a drug addict – from the inner city, poor and Black. However the typical profile today is a White male in his 40s or 50s according to experts.

County officials have come together to form a comprehensive action plan to tackle the problem of heroin addiction.

Dettlebach says his office began working on the problem last year.

“Our office began working on this problem, building on the good work already started by so many others including the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner and Sheriff, the Prosecutor’s Office, Cleveland Police, the DEA, FBI and others. But, we also realized that we need to partner with MetroHealth, the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, as well as treatment professionals and educational specialists.”