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Health and Medicine

Pilot program attempting to stem the end users in Ohio's heroin epidemic
Lorain County police can now carry a drug that's been designed to treat overdose cases, and has saved 12 of 13 in the past month

Kabir Bhatia
Breakout sessions like this one allowed law enforcement and medical personnel the chance to discuss ways to stem Ohio's rapidly growing heroin problem
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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In The Region:
About 700 medical and law enforcement personnel gathered for a day-long summit on Northeast Ohio’s rapidly growing heroin problem. WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports on the search for causes and solutions.
Pilot program attempting to stem the end users in Ohio's heroin epidemic

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Experts at the summit say deaths from heroin overdoses tripled from 2011 to 2012. Users cut across all demographics because the cost of heroin has plunged in recent years.

Dr. Stephen Evans says Lorain County – where he’s the coroner -- is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the state.

“We had this huge population that was addicted to prescription medicines. And as those are being pulled off the streets, [the] dealers are putting heroin on the streets. It’s easier to get. It’s freely available. And it’s quite reasonably priced.”

The drug is coming in from Mexico and also Afghanistan, where production resumed after the fall of the Taliban. The pipeline of heroin to the U.S. has even caused problems for Russia, formerly a big customer for Afghanistan, where chemists are now cooking up a substitute called Krokodil.

“They’re taking codeine and putting it through processes including using gasoline and other things to bastardize the chemical and use it like heroin. Unfortunately, it’s much more addicting and much more damaging. And that’s where you see these pictures of people with their arms falling off after they inject this stuff.”

Evans says Ohio’s heroin problem is 10 times worse than its meth problem.

“It started off [that] southern Ohio is the biggest area. And some of that is because West Virginia and Kentucky are the No. 1 and No. 3 states for drug overdoses in the entire United States. So that was filtering into southern Ohio.”

And eventually filtering throughout the state. Ohio ranks 12th for overdose deaths. Evans says education on the dangers of drug abuse – of all kinds – is needed to stem the problem over time. But for immediate results, he’s led the push for police officers to carry Narcan. That’s a brand name for a drug which – when squirted in the nostrils – can counter overdoses. Evans says it’s safer than aspirin, and he’d like to see it offered over the counter.

“It’s a completely benign medication. If we gave it to every person, it would be like squirting their nose with saline. It has only one function in life, and that is to reverse a narcotic overdose. If you gave it to someone who doesn’t have narcotics on board, it’s not going to affect them one bit.”

Each Narcan kit costs about $25, and Evans hopes the kits can be as ubiquitous as defibrillators in the future. Starting last month state legislation kicked in to allow Lorain County law enforcement to carry the kits as part of a pilot program. Since then, 12 of 13 overdose lies were saved, with the victims sitting up and talking in a matter of minutes.
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