September 18, 2014

Elyria
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Lorain County sets record for fatal overdoses

A State Highway Patrol officer shows a bag of heroin seized in Vermilion earlier this year. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

A State Highway Patrol officer shows a bag of heroin seized in Vermilion earlier this year. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Despite greater awareness, outreach and a pilot program to revive addicts, Lorain County fatal overdoses in 2013 topped the record-setting number in 2012.

There were at least 67 fatal overdoses from heroin, prescription pills or a combination of both in 2013, compared with 60 in 2012, according to Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans. There were 22 each in 2010 and 2011.

Evans said the spike mirrors a trend in Ohio and nationally. As laws have tightened for prescribing pills, addicts have switched to heroin, which is cheaper and easily available on the streets. Evans said about 60 percent of deaths in 2013 involved heroin. In 2012, roughly 60 percent of deaths were from pills.

Evans, who partially blames increased addiction on pharmaceutical companies overprescribing painkillers to increase profits, said the typical fatality involved a white man between 20 and 35. While the vast majority of overdoses were in Lorain and Elyria, according to LifeCare Ambulance, Evans said the percentage of fatal and non-fatal overdoses in suburban communities is increasing.

“The face of overdoses has changed,” Evans said. “It’s no longer just an inner-city, lower socio-economic group that’s being bothered with it. It’s actually more common now in the middle class.”

Lorain police Sgt. Tom Nimon, head of the department’s narcotics unit, said it’s common for suburban addicts to drive to Lorain and Elyria to buy heroin. Nimon said Lorain police seized about a kilo of heroin this year which has a street value of approximately $100,000.

Nimon said seizures were up between 30 percent to 40 percent in 2013 from last year and at least 200 dealers or users were arrested. Users frequently buy a bindle of heroin, about 1/20th of a gram, for $15 to $20 or a gram for $180 to $200. Nimon said it’s common for low-level dealers to be addicts selling to support their habit.

Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera said his department has switched emphasis from long-term investigations of major dealers to more street-level arrests. Rivera said the emphasis has improved the quality of life in Lorain.

Nonetheless, Rivera said police can’t “arrest our way out of the problem” and said there must be greater emphasis on treatment.

Thomas Stuber, Lorain County Alcohol Drug Abuse Services CEO and president, said the number of addicts treated by his group has increased about 60 percent since 2010. The group sees about 45 new clients per week compared with about 25 new clients per week in 2010 with many heroin or prescription pill addicts.

Stuber said the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio as part of ObamaCare will expand treatment this year. Stuber said his group will hire six more counselors and a doctor later this month.

Elaine Georgas, county Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services board executive director, said her agency will also expand treatment this year. The agency, which has an approximately $2 million annual budget, received an additional $165,000 from the state.

Georgas said the increasing deaths have heightened awareness. A series of community meetings about addiction were held in 2013 throughout the county and at least one community group was formed to formed to raise awareness. Georgas said more people understand addicts shouldn’t be shunned and addiction is a disease. “If we can work and treat it that way, we can have good success,” she said.

Georgas praised the pilot program approved by the Legislature in 2013 in Lorain County. It allows police to carry Narcan, a nasal spray that can revive addicts if used shortly after an overdose. Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a synthetic narcotic that blocks the effects of opiates like heroin on the nervous system. At least 15 addicts were revived by police countywide through November, according to Georgas.

Rivera said police will continue using Narcan, but it’s not enough. Rivera, an officer since 1971, said society needs to have “an honest dialogue” about whether the “War on Drugs” and the drug prohibition has increased violence and whether decriminalization or legalization of heroin is warranted.

“They have to be open about is it time to legalize it and take the criminality out of it and thuggery and crime out of it,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m not sold on it, but it’s time to have that discussion.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.


  • formerlorainresident

    Blames pharmaceutical companies for overprescribing painkillers? Physicians prescribe, pharmaceutical companies do not! The blame lies with his profession, the physicians, who give addicts and sellers access to these drugs. When used properly, these drugs are a god-send to many people; for example cancer patients with excruciating pain.
    Look no further than your fellow AMA members, they are the prescribers and the ones driven by greed; charging “patients” enormous fees for these prescriptions. The drug manufacturers do not sell to the public, the physicians do, through indiscriminate prescribing in the name of personal profit. A ridiculous statement by Dr. Evans designed to shift the blame away from his own profession.

    • jz

      Blame the people who get the prescriptions for legitimate reasons then sell them on the street [at great profit created by the drug war black market] for people to alter their mood for the contentment and relief from emotional pain they experience. Which for some folks pain pills are very good at abating emotional pain also. Certainly there are other more healthful ways to deal with emotional pain like exercise etc, but, there will always be a percentage of the population that will abuse mood altering substances from cigarettes, alcohol, and up the chain. Cel Rivera is absolutely showing true courage in at least bringing the topic up for discussion. Perhaps he is a member of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and/or the Drug Policy Alliance. Take a deep breath, put your thinking caps on, quit the knee jerking and at least try to imagine whether or not a harm reduction, medical rather than law enforcement policy towards what is really at its core a medical/addiction problem before the war on drugs magnified all negative ramifications of drug abuse 20 times over since the drug war began. Can we deal with the terrible things hard drug addiction does to some people and keep it at that minus all the more terrible things that befall society as a direct result of drug prohibition policies? And enough of the sky will fall bull crap coming from many who benefit from continuing the status quo and the rest who many have little interest other “throw the book at em” mentality”, give it no more thought than that, which by the way our famous law and order Nixon;s own commission strongly advise him not to start a ;war on drugs’. Congratulations Cel for speaking out. The drug war is an Apostate policy.

  • Larry Crnobrnja

    Of those 67 fatal overdoses, how many started with a legal prescription?

    I’m waiting for the answer…

    Cue the crickets…

    • formerlorainresident

      Missing the point. Dr. Evans stated “blames increased addiction on pharmaceutical companies overprescribing painkillers to increase profits,” How can a pharmaceutical company “overprescribe”, when they do not even prescribe ???

      It is the doctors who prescribe medications, not the drug manufacturers. The physicians are the gatekeepers and have the ultimate responsibility in determining whether a patient needs a drug or not, based on their clinical judgement. When used appropriately, pharmaceuticals provide a tremendous benefit to mankind. It is the physicians who are indiscriminately using them and overprescribing, not the drug companies. This was my only point.
      Dr. Evans needs to look at his own profession, not put the blame on others who have no control on who’s hands their products fall into. They know Vicodin, Oxycontin etc. are highly addictive, but provide them to patients who don’;t need them. Think Dr. Gotsis, Faymore and others.

      These products provide tremendous relief for many who need them, terminal cancer patients, surgical patients etc. Should these patients be denied the benefits of these products simply because others choose to abuse them and doctors prescribe them inappropriately?

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        You make a good point regarding Evans’ incorrect statement, but my question is still valid.

    • jz

      If you had a torn meniscus would you like it if your doctor said take aspirin when aspirin did not phase the pain? Because he is afraid to prescribe cus they may be resold on the street? Even though you yourself wouldn,t do that. One problem is that many who have legitimate pain requiring vicodin or percocet are also borderline poor and will sacrifice half of their pills for good cash so they can buy groceries. Is that wrong? Yes. But a doctor is their to diagnose the injury/ailment and prescribe treatment only. We can,t expect doctors to be anything more that doctors. Not narcotic officers, private investigators etc. The ones who are blatantly over prescribing the narcs know who they are. There are problematics. So we go back to the more manageable, compassionate, reduce crime/harm reduction approach and we have records of where every thing goes just like alcohol and tobacco and soon marijuana will be regulated and controlled. All money wasted on interdiction goes toward medical setting when someone has a true desire to change the course they have been on towards sobriety.

      • Larry Crnobrnja

        My guess is only a statistically negligible percentage of heroin users got hooked because of a legal prescription. Blaming it on such is a non sequitur.

        • jz

          I think a lot of todays young abusers of heroin started on pain pills. Perhaps not from their own legal prescription, but, buying them from people who have gotten legal prescriptions and sell them rather than take them as prescribed. The usual is a person willing to live with some of their pain but also sees a way to make $ selling each pill for 5-10 bucks apiece. . Among the 17-30 year age bracket? I would guess 35 -40 percent. I could be way off. The cops would have a good estimate.

          • Larry Crnobrnja

            Newsflash: It ain’t legal if it isn’t their prescription.

          • Michael

            nor is it legal to use it more than prescribed, i.e. if the script is say 1 pill 3x a day, taking 2 pills 4x a day is drug abuse.

          • Larry Crnobrnja

            Good point. I might also add that I had reconstructive surgery (100+ stitches) on my right arm after a very serious accident and never considered heroin during or after my recovery.

            The problem is idiots, not prescription drugs.

          • jz

            Agree on that one.

  • SpaceTech

    If the drug addicts want to continue to shoot up and overdose……..Let’em these people are the non functioning people of society and a huge burden to police, health workers, budgets and taxpayers. Really $2 million per year budget to treat addicts that most likely relapse is a waste of taxpayer money.

  • Thomas Calkins

    Of those 67 fatal overdoses, I’ll bet 90% started with alcohol.

    • Joe Smith

      Of those cases, I bet 100% started with milk, makes about as much sense.

      • Thomas Calkins

        Spoken like a true fan of alcohol Joe.

        • Joe Smith

          Yes I am, it is the nectar of the Gods, especially on a hot day

  • Thomas Calkins

    And God bless Chief Rivera. It should be a priority of this great nation to stop the war and start the healing. Then those that need or want treatment can get it without feeling like a criminal. And the people that need pain or mental health medication can get it instead of being denied by fearful doctors.

  • Michael

    The 67 number does not include the ones saved by EMTs administering Narcovan (sp). I’m not certain of the number but upwards of a dozen didn’t meet their fate that day. So, the number should be higher but isn’t due to timely intervention.

    I’m wondering how many of those who experienced the “high to death, then lived” will now do it again. It’s a new high, and, sadly, many are looking for that.