Staff and wire reports
CLEVELAND — More than 600 people have signed up for a daylong conference on what law enforcement and health care officials are calling a heroin epidemic in Northeast Ohio.
The Cleveland Clinic and federal prosecutors are hosting the event Thursday at the InterContinental Hotel, on the clinic’s Carnegie Avenue campus.
Steven Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, called the increasing heroin use in the region a public health crisis.
“Greater Cleveland’s leading institutions are coming together to find solutions to this public health crisis,” Dettelbach said. “The fight against heroin is not just about arrests. It is also about prevention and treatment.”
David Rowan, Cleveland Clinic’s chief legal officer, agreed that heroin abuse is not just a law enforcement problem.
“We support the efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s office for bringing together this collaboration to stop the escalating abuse of heroin taking place in our communities,” Rowan said. “Through this summit, we have an opportunity to fight this battle on multiple levels by bringing together health care providers, criminal investigators, and experts in addiction and counseling.”
Officials said the number of deaths is alarming.
Cuyahoga County is on pace for 200 heroin-related deaths this year — a 400 percent increase from the 40 deaths reported in 2007.
In Lorain County, at least 55 people have fatally overdosed from heroin, prescription pills or a combination of both so far this year, according to Dr. Eric Lockhart, Lorain County deputy coroner.
Lockhart said he expected this year’s death count to surpass the record 60 fatal overdoses recorded last year in the county. There were 22 fatal overdoses in 2011 and 22 in 2010.
Earlier this month, two men were arrested in Lorain County, accused of selling the powerful pain killer fentanyl as heroin, resulting in 21 overdoses and two deaths.
Gary Hubbard, director of the Medina County Drug Task Force, said heroin has been a growing problem in Medina County.
“Prescription pain pills and heroin are the two biggest drugs we see right now,” he said.
Hubbard said many people who abuse prescription drugs have made the switch to heroin because it’s cheaper.
“We’re finding our crack cocaine dealers are now dealing it more than cocaine,” he said. “Our opiate-based overdoses are growing each year.”
On May 20, a 17-year-old Medina High senior died two days before she was to graduate. Medina County Coroner Dr. Neil F. Grabenstetter ruled the cause of death was “acute intoxication with heroin.”
Thursday’s meeting — “Heroin: A Crisis Facing Our Entire Community” — will look at heroin abuse from the perspectives of the medical, treatment, education, prevention and law enforcement communities.
The goal of the meeting is to develop “a community action plan that will lay out strategies and next steps in turning back the tide of heroin addiction,” according to Mike Tobin, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The daylong event will feature speakers at the forefront of dealing with the heroin epidemic, as well as panel discussions and breakout sessions.
Tobin said response to the meeting exceeded capacity.
“We’ve already got more than 600 people signed up and another 50 on a waiting list,” Tobin said.
The meeting is sponsored by the United States Attorney’s Office, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cuyahoga County Executive, the Ohio Attorney General, MetroHealth Medical Center, University Hospitals, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the Cleveland Division of Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Ohio State Medical Board, the Ohio State Pharmacy Board, Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, the ADAMHS Board, the Westshore Enforcement Bureau and others.