Dozens come together to find new solutions to fight heroin epidemic

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, OH (WOIO) - The heroin epidemic has reached crisis levels in northeast Ohio.

Is there a solution to the problem? The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County is trying to figure that out.

The board held a meeting Monday at the Tri-C Jerry Sue Thornton Center to bring together people impacted by the crisis to brainstorm. Family members who have lost loved ones to addiction met with drug prevention advocates and support group leaders to come up with concrete ideas to fight the heroin epidemic.

Those in attendance hope some of their proposals will be put into action soon.

Though awareness of the problem has grown, according to the board, deaths from the powerful opioid continue to rise.

Paul Fitzpatrick helped put the event together. He knows what it feels like to be an addict.

"I'm one of the fortunate ones that made it back. I'm not special, I'm just blessed," he said.

He spent years in recovery. He wants to make a difference, but he knows that takes time.

"If I had done a 30- or 60-day, it would not have worked. The fact that I had long-term treatment was what allowed me to change," Fitzpatrick said.

Christina Cummings agrees. She lost both of her parents to heroin and she struggled with drug addiction herself.

"Long-term recovery was the only way I was ever able to stay sober. I had a lot of short-term recovery programs I attended that were unsuccessful for me," Cummings said.

Cuyahoga County just received $1.5 million to increase its long-term recovery beds from 147 to 260. But that money will only last them one year.

"To be able to come here, to be part of something and have a voice and say that we do recover -- there is a solution and recovery works," Cummings said.

Proposed solutions brought up at the meeting include:

  • When a crime committed involves opiates, offenders could help fund prevention programs with their court fees.
  • Setting up "safe heroin injection sites" that offer supervision and clean needles for addicts that will use any way.
  • People revived by the antidote Narcan must receive treatment and pay for the costs associated with Naloxone.

The board's CEO, William Denihan, says it's time to ramp up the fight.

"Whatever we were doing, certainly it isn't working. It's not because we aren't trying hard enough. I don't think there's any one silver bullet, I think it's a combination of things," Denihan said.

This Wednesday, Denihan plans to present their solutions to fight heroin at the state capitol.

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