Pharmaceutical drug use triggers resurgence in heroin abuse, says U.S. attorney
— The pharmaceutical industry has inadvertently kickstarted a disturbing heroin epidemic, said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, who adds that this epidemic has an especially stark local impact.
“In 1997, for every man, woman and child in Ohio, there were seven pain pills prescribed,” said Dettelbach, who recently spoke at an Akron Roundtable luncheon. “In 2010, for every man woman and child in Ohio, there were 67 pills prescribed, an increase of 900 percent. I’m pretty sure the level of pain in Ohio didn’t increase 900 percent.” (See video excerpts below.)
Once people either run out of pills or run out of money, they “turn to heroin, which is in the same pharmacological family and which they can get for a fraction of the cost,” said Dettelbach, who has worked as a career prosecutor and won convictions in one of the U.S.’ largest human trafficking cases.
In nearby Cuyahoga County, heroin deaths have increased 400 percent in the last five years, said Dettelbach. “Last year, 200 people died from heroin overdose. In Summit County, in the last two years 86 people in Summit County have died from heroin use. These fatalities cut across all demographics. This is a tragedy that knows no community, state or local boundaries.”
Fatal overdoses are only one way to measure the crushing impact, he added. “A staggering amount of other crime is related to heroin,” whether it’s dealers selling lethal doses or copper thieves, who sell the material for drug money.
Our community faces a law enforcement problem, a health care problem and a treatment problem. when it comes to heroin. “A gram of prediction is worth 10 kilos of cure, the grip of this drug is so strong once it takes hold, it rarely lets go,” Dettelbach added.
The solution lies in a multifaceted approach, he said, with traditional partners like Drug Enforcement Agency, Ohio Attorney General and local police departments, along with the health care community, like hospitals and medical examiners. The groups of partners, said Dettelbach, should be expanded even further, to recovery centers, people in recovery and those with family members who have experience tragedy. “The goal has been to try to invite as many committed people as we can.”
He told Akron Roundtable attendees that the U.S. Attorney’s office has reached from the courthouse to the community in an attempt to positively address this problem. One effort was a daylong summit at the Cleveland Clinic, which recently drew 700 people. As a result, a written action plan was developed, with deliverable, measurable goals, and a task force was assembled with a commitment to continue the efforts.
One result of the summit is a plan to set up drop boxes for unused prescription drugs in every single community in Cuyahoga County. A health care policy group pushed for a state amendment that will enable first responders to be equipped with Naloxone, which can revive someone who has overdosed. Naloxone can literally save hundreds of lives in the community.
Also changed is the protocol followed by police officers when they encounter an overdose, along with the act of charging dealers with murder when the product they sell causes fatal overdoses.
And some of these solutions also may be adapted by Summit County and other communities, said Dettelbach, who added, “We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. The solution cannot just be to arrest drug dealers, or have more treatment.”
For information about upcoming Akron Roundtable speakers, visit www.akronroundtable.org.