June 28, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Legislation tackles heroin epidemic

MEDINA — The Cleveland Clinic and U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach are calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation aimed at the heroin crisis in Northeast Ohio.

The legislation is part of larger community action plan released Friday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office — Northern District of Ohio, in Cleveland.

The plan was developed after a forum last month that brought together more than 600 law enforcement officials, judges, social workers, medical professionals and families of those affected by heroin addiction.

At the forum, Dr. Delos Cosgrove, president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, said the hospital gets about 25 calls each day for help with opiate addiction. The hospital system admits four to five new patients each day asking for treatment for addiction.

Dettelbach said the dramatic increase in heroin use isn’t just a law enforcement challenge. It has resulted in a health crisis.

Cuyahoga County is on track to reach 200 heroin-related deaths this year, a 400 percent increase from 40 deaths in 2007.

Heroin-related deaths have risen in Medina County each of the last four years.

“Medina County’s heroin deaths are increasing just like everywhere else in Northeast Ohio,” said Gary Hubbard, director of the Medina County Drug Task Force.

So far this year there have been 13 heroin-related deaths and 10 more deaths are under investigation in the county.

Hubbard said 16 percent of his cases this year involved heroin abuse and another 38 percent dealt with prescription drug abuse.

“People left heroin to go to other drugs. Now law enforcement and health care providers are cracking down and people are now leaving those opiates and going back to heroin because it is easier to get,” he said.

The legislation cited in the community action plan would provide more tools for dealing with health-related problems cause by heroin use:

• House Bill 170 would put Narcan, a drug that reverses the affects of an opiate overdose in only a few minutes, into the hands of law enforcement officials — not just paramedics.

• House Bill 92 would establish syringe exchange programs throughout the state allowing drug users to safely dispose of used syringes, aiding in the prevention of hepatitis C and HIV.

• A call for the drafting and passage of a Good Samaritan Law by the end of 2014 that would protect people who report overdoses to authorities.

• Stricter regulations for the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System that include limits on the amount and frequency prescriptions are prescribed and refilled.

• Strengthening the Ohio Opioids and Other Controlled Substances guidelines by adopting uniform rules for Emergency Departments when dealing with chronic benign pain management.

The action plan targets four specific areas: prevention and education, health care policy, law enforcement and treatment.

The plan calls for educating people on the dangers of not only black-market heroin abuse but prescription opiate and benzodiazepine abuse by instituting curriculum into existing health programs at the middle- and high-school levels.

Law enforcement officials also are pushing for harsher penalties for the people supplying heroin.

New protocols would hold drug traffickers responsible for overdose-related deaths and would include charges of manslaughter where appropriate.

Contact reporter Andrew Davis at (330) 721-4050 or adavis@medina-gazette.com.