By Marc Kovac
Calling it an epidemic affecting every area of the state, Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday he will create a special unit within his office to focus on heroin use and abuse, with hopes of cracking down on peddlers and preventing Ohioans from becoming addicts.
“I’ve heard over and over from sheriffs and police chiefs and coroners just how bad the heroin problem is,” DeWine told reporters during a morning press conference near the Statehouse. He added, “If you don’t think you have a problem in your community, you’re probably wrong.”
The number of heroin-related deaths has more than doubled in the past three years in the 47 counties that provided information to DeWine’s office, from 292 in 2010 to 606 in 2012.
So far this year, 487 deaths were reported by county coroners.
Cuyahoga County topped the list with 161 deaths last year with another 97 already reported this year. Montgomery, Franklin and Hamilton reported 50-plus this year. Stark County reported 15 last year and 17 so far this year; Trumbull had 20 last year and eight this year.
But the numbers likely are lower than what’s actually happening across the state, DeWine said.
The “data our office has gathered suggests 11 people die in Ohio every week because of heroin overdose,” DeWine said, adding later, “The 2013 preliminary coroner heroin-death numbers we have been gathering show that the increase in heroin deaths will, unfortunately, continue to climb.”
DeWine committed about $1 million in costs for the new heroin unit, which will include investigators, drug-abuse counselors, attorneys and others.
The attorney general’s office will work to stem the tide of heroin coming into Ohio from Mexico, often trickling into the hands of suburban users.
DeWine also said his office would help local law enforcement and community leaders dealing with the issue.