I-Team: Leaders Search for Answers in Heroin Epidemic

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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.

** Click here to watch the three-part series of I-Team: Prescription for Disaster **

"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.

Click here for continuing coverage on the heroin epidemic.


  • Tina Herbs

    I depend on my pain medication to deal with serious health problems. My meds are already under war, my primary looking guilty of being a “doctor feelgood”. This just is not the fact. It took years to get my meds correct, and have graduated with my Associates degree as an “A” student, and am currently earning my Bachelors. My meds were cut by two thirds two months ago, and I am now a “D” student, suffering pain I havent felt for years. If you want to force my to only be allowed meds for ten days, then you will take away what ever quality of life Im now suffering through. The rules should not apply to chronic patients with no drug arrests or convictions. Those of us on pain medication are not all addicts looking to score.
    I feel this whole debate is being handled badly.
    Berea Ohio

  • LandOfTheLimited

    Limit painkillers and addicts switch to heroin. Limit heroin and addicts will find the next fix. All these laws and limitations have done absolutely nothing to stop drug use. Signing for Sudafed hasn’t stopped meth but it has made things very difficult for many allergy sufferers. Limit painkillers and many people who can currently remain productive citizens will be forced into disability. Somewhere in the process, the innocents are the only ones who end up feeling punished while the guilty carry on. Let those in pain have proper treatment (determined by the MD that knows the patient and their medical history, not by the government) and use the monitoring tools already in place like drug reading patients, checking pharmacy database, etc., and get adequate rehab facilities (affordable!) in place for those who want help

  • naabt

    Get help for heroin and painkiller addictions in a doctor’s office with the prescription medication buprenorphine. Go to TreatmentMatch.org – a nonprofit organization providing a free and confidential way to find certified doctors who can help. Learn more about bupe at naabt.org

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