COLUMBUS, OH (WOIO) - "There is a heroin epidemic in Ohio," said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Monday in a news conference to announce disturbing new figures about the use of heroin in the state. The data, gathered from coroners across the state, show that the use of heroin has increased dramatically over the last four years.
"Communities have to wake up. If you don't think you have a problem, you are probably wrong," said DeWine. "Local law enforcement understands the problem. As I have traveled the state, over and over sheriffs and police and coroners tell me how bad it is. Unfortunately, there are people out there who don't believe heroin is really in their communities. They don't want to believe that this can be them -- that this can be their child who is addicted or who is going to die from a heroin overdose. The numbers tell a different story. We know that, at minimum, 606 families across this state were directly impacted in 2012 by a heroin death," said DeWine.
"We have to fight this epidemic at the grassroots level - community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood. We have to get mad and say, 'Enough is enough!'"
DeWine announced a new effort his office is undertaking to assist law enforcement agencies, community leaders, and Ohio residents in this fight.
The Attorney General's Heroin Unit, which will include investigators, lawyers, and drug abuse awareness specialists, will assist in combating issues associated with the heroin epidemic, such as crime, addiction, and overdose deaths.
"New data our office has gathered suggests 11 people die in Ohio every week from a heroin overdose," said Attorney General DeWine. "Heroin abuse and addiction has been a problem for a long time, one I keep hearing about as I talk with parents, prosecutors, and law enforcement around the state. These new efforts to fight heroin will not be the full solution to Ohio's heroin problem, but by providing what services we can, we hope to save lives and prevent addiction."
The decision to create the specialized unit was made after new data gathered by the Attorney General's Office in the past month revealed a 107-percent increase in heroin deaths among more than half of Ohio's counties. The data was collected from 47 Ohio coroner's offices with complete heroin overdose data for 2010, 2011, and 2012.
The results are as follows:
• 2010: 292 heroin overdose deaths
• 2011: 395 heroin overdose deaths
• 2012: 606 heroin overdose deaths
The reporting counties with the largest number of heroin overdoses in 2012 include:
• Cuyahoga County: 161
• Franklin County: 73
• Hamilton County: 54
• Montgomery County: 93
Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger, who is also the Chief Forensic Officer for the Ohio State Coroners Association, attended today's announcement.
"Heroin deaths in Montgomery County so far in 2013 are up to 92, nearly the number for the entire 2012 year," said Dr. Harshbarger. "I'm glad there is an increased effort to try to fight this increasing problem plaguing our state and killing too many Ohioans."
The parents of 20-year-old Marin Riggs, of Upper Arlington, said heroin is the definition of heartbreak for them.
"Marin was 20 and headed to college to become an ultrasound technician," said Heidi Riggs. "Her smile, which lit up the room, was extinguished by her heroin addiction, which lured her back after six months of sobriety. We hope to encourage other parents to talk to their kids and know that heroin is readily available in every suburb of every city in every state for about $10."
The Ohio Attorney General's Office also issued a heroin contact list for law enforcement, community leaders, and the public to help find resources and answer questions.
"Despite major efforts to fight the heroin epidemic on the state, local, and national level, the problem is not going away, and people are continuing to die," said Attorney General DeWine. "Heroin injects addiction, deception, and death in the lives of so many young people, and we hope this new effort can save lives."