CLEVELAND -- The heroin epidemic in Ohio, first detailed in 2011 in a three-part I-Team investigation, continues to kill as leaders work to come up with a coordinated response.
"We truly are dealing with a huge epidemic," says Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove.
Right now, about four people a day die in Ohio from overdoses, more than are killed by car wrecks.
Last weekend, six people died of apparent overdoses in Northeast Ohio alone. On Thursday, the Clinic hosted a sold-out heroin summit, attended by about 650 people, including judges, police officers, doctors and social workers.
The summit was organized in large part by U.S. Attorney Steve Dettlebach, who is passionate about the subject.
"One mistake on heroin could be the last mistake you ever make," Dettlebach says.
As the I-Team first reported two years ago, what makes this epidemic different is that it started, in large part, in doctors' offices.
According to records at the Ohio Pharmacy Board, in 1997, doctors in the state prescribed an average of seven "opiates" (the prescription-based cousins of heroin) per capita in Ohio. That means enough pills were prescribed to give each person in the state seven of them.
By 2010, with new drugs on the market, that number was 67.
Experts say many doctors may not understand just how addictive opiates can be.
The doctors are also rated -- and paid-- by government insurance in part by how their patients rate the pain management they are receiving.
The system can lead to a perverse result where doctors may feel they need to prescribe more opiates to avoid a low rating from patients.
The I-Team obtained a copy of draft proposals being circulated at the summit. They include possibly:
- Requiring photo identifications to pick up prescriptions
- Limiting opiates to 10-day at a time prescriptions
- Asking doctors to make opiates a "last resort" in pain treatment
- Charging heroin dealers with manslaughter charges if a user dies after buying them
Leaders hope to finalize the proposals within the next couple weeks. In the meantime, people are encouraged to get rid of unused prescriptions by dropping them off at designated drug drop boxes. They are located in the police departments of most communities in Cuyahoga County.