Ohio at center of opioid crisis: Cleveland forum looks at ways to end the epidemic

CLEVELAND -- As the nation's deadly opioid crisis spirals out of control, hundreds gathered in Cleveland to talk about ways to end the epidemic. Health experts say Ohio is the epicenter of the problem, with more overdose deaths than any other state.

In 2015, Ohio recorded about 2,500 overdose deaths and the numbers appear to be on the rise. Local leaders joined experts from Washington, hoping the law enforcement, government and health care industries can find a common solution.

"It's killing people, sometimes on first encounter," the gathering was told at the start of the meeting.

It's an epidemic affecting every race, age and income level. Hundreds of leaders from various professional backgrounds attended a forum at the Global Center for Health Innovation downtown Thursday evening, sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic. The goal is.to stop the opioid overdoses killing Americans, including many in Ohio; at least two people die in Cuyahoga County every day.

"We need to raise the consciousness of people about the seriousness of this problem. These drugs are potent; they're lethal and they're addictive, and I think, we're gonna have...before we can deal with this, we're gonna have to involve all of society," said Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO and President of the Cleveland Clinic.

Click here for a list of resources for those battling opioid addiction

"The problem is that if an American wanted to get fentanyl or some other synthetic, it's all too easy; get on the dark web and it can be shipped right to your house," said acting DEA administrator Chuck Rosenberg.

Rosenberg says he believes addiction should be treated as a health crisis. Often times, local law enforcement are the first people an addict encounters.

He says lack of resources on a federal level means the DEA has to focus on much bigger threats in the opioid drug war.

"We have to aim our work at what I call the Unholy Alliance, between violent street gangs and the cartels that supply them and work our way up the chain," Rosenberg said.

"While we've been paying more attention to it in the last two or three years, the truth is that the number of opioid overdose deaths between 1999 and now, has more than quadrupled and that's coincided with a near quadrupling of the quanitity of opioids prescribed, so this has been building for awhile," said Vivek Murthy, former US Surgeon General.

"Doctors are in fact, limiting the drugs that they're giving. We're looking at alternative ways that we can take care of chronic pain and we are trying to figure out how best we deal with people who are addicted already,"said Dr. Cosgrove.

More on the heroin epidemic.