ELYRIA — The number of heroin-related deaths has reached such a level in recent years that it commanded the attention of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who announced Monday a new program to reduce heroin use and overdoses.
“These are frightening numbers,” DeWine said about the number of heroin overdose deaths in the state this past year. Data gathered from 47 counties in the state show a 107 percent increase in heroin deaths from 2010 to 2013. Lorain County has had 22 deaths in 2013 alone, DeWine said. “Lorain County has a really tragic spike.”
On Monday DeWine started a group called the Attorney General’s Heroin Unit, which consists of investigators, lawyers and drug abuse awareness specialists who will work with various counties in the state to reduce the number of heroin deaths.
The goal of the unit is not to tell county officials how to handle the heroin problem, DeWine said, but rather to educate them about what methods have worked in other counties.
“Some counties are in denial,” DeWine said, adding that he would like county officials to accept that heroin use is a problem in Ohio and learn methods to reduce the amount of heroin use.
Though the group is intended to provide statewide assistance, DeWine said he hopes the efforts to reduce heroin deaths will have a local focus.
“There’s success for local communities working together and rallying (the community),” DeWine said, adding that some counties have been able to reduce heroin use through efforts led by \the families of heroin users and victims of heroin overdose.
“There’s no one easy solution. It’s combination of law enforcement, education and treatment,” DeWine said.
DeWine said the idea came after he traveled around Ohio for a year, discussing the heroin epidemic with county officials. Further research led DeWine to call coroners around Ohio and compile statistics for recent heroin overdose deaths in each county. The increase in heroin deaths from the 47 coroners DeWine talked to led him to decide to address the epidemic on a statewide level.
The formation of the unit comes at an apt time for Lorain County after more than 25 opiate overdoses in the county last week, two of which resulted in deaths.
The Lorain County Drug Task Force is continuing to work closely with Elyria and Lorain police to determine the source of the opiate-related drugs and arrest heroin and opiate traffickers in the county.