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Press Release

U.S. Attorney's Office and Partners Report Progress One Year after Heroin Summit

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Ohio

One year after a summit focused on heroin and opioid addiction, many of the participants came together to provide an update to the community on activity and progress that has been made since the summit.

The Cleveland Clinic and United States Attorney’s Office, together with many partners, hosted “Heroin: A Crisis Facing Our Entire Community.” The summit resulted in the formation of a working group and a community action that that looked at heroin and opioid abuse from the perspectives of the medical, treatment, prevention and law enforcement communities.

Among the developments since the Heroin and Opioid Summit:

  • Drop boxes for prescription pills now exist in most communities in Cuyahoga County, resulting in the collection of more than 13,000 pounds of pills.
  • House Bill 170 was signed into law, following testimony by some of the participants of the heroin summit. Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) has nearly 1,000 registrants and documented nearly 100 reversals.
  • Cuyahoga County and the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office provided money for a variety of regional cooperative law enforcement groups to purchase an initial supply of Naloxone for officer use.
  • Cleveland Police, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor developed investigative protocols so fatal heroin overdoses are now fully investigated and treated as crime scenes.
  • Three heroin cases have been prosecuted in federal court under a “death-specification” sentencing enhancement in cases that resulted in death. Sentences have ranged from 12 to 20 years in prison.
  • The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor has filed eight heroin-related manslaughter indictments since the summit.
  • Three physicians have been indicted in federal court of illegally dispensing tens of thousands of doses of prescription painkillers.
  • Members of the working group have participated in nearly 100 community, school or public events in the past year to raise awareness about the dangers posed by heroin and opioids, as well as extensive publicity campaigns undertaken by the ADAMHS Board and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor.
  • A second judge will be added to handle Cuyahoga County’s Drug Court docket.

Despite these efforts, heroin overdose remains a leading cause of death in Cuyahoga County, and deaths continue are expected to hover around 200 this year. That figure represents a nearly 400 percent increase from a decade ago. Police and prosecutors report a huge influx in both the availability of heroin and the number of heroin-related crimes.

There are also significant challenges from this crisis that are facing the medical profession. Doctors are grappling with how to effectively treat pain will responsibly prescribing opioids. Treatment professionals struggle with how to provide resources and help to people struggling with addiction, while parents, educators and others search for effective strategies to keep people from trying heroin in the first place.

“The heroin epidemic in Northern Ohio is a law enforcement problem, a treatment problem, a medical problem, a public-health problem and a societal problem,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Only by working together for comprehensive solutions will we begin to turn the tide. This group has continued to work together to push for substantive changes on everything from the availability of Naloxone to how heroin fatalities are investigated. There is still work to do, and we will continue to do it.”

Cuyahoga County Executive Edward FitzGerald said: “Over the last year, we have worked collaboratively to bring law enforcement officials, public health experts, and other stakeholders from across Northeast Ohio together to implement a comprehensive strategy that will end the epidemic of heroin abuse in our region. I am proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far – especially the cutting-edge practices and procedures established by the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, led by Dr. Tom Gilson. As this critical public health effort moves forward in the weeks and months to come, I am confident that we have laid the groundwork that will help finally reverse the trend of opiate addiction in our region.”

“Solving the heroin epidemic in our community requires collaboration among doctors, treatment professionals, legislators, educators and law enforcement agencies,” says Jason Jerry, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic physician in the Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center. “It’s our role as healthcare professionals to educate our counterparts about the most effective, evidence-based treatment options available for those suffering from addiction, we are moving in the right direction, but still have important work ahead of us.”

The summit and subsequent working group includes representatives from the United States Attorney’s Office, the Cleveland Clinic, the Cuyahoga County Executive, the Ohio Attorney General, MetroHealth Medical Center, University Hospitals, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, the Cleveland Division of Police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Ohio State Medical Board, the Ohio State Pharmacy Board, Cuyahoga County Board of Health, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, the ADAMHS Board., the Westshore Enforcement Bureau and others.

Updated March 19, 2015