CLEVELAND - Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson said the new street heroin is pure and dangerous.
"What's changed from the heroin that was on the streets in the 1970s is that was relatively impure. There were a lot of cutting agents that had been on it," Gilson said.
The medical examiner was one of many members from the medical and law enforcement communities surrounding Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald in heroin initiative meeting on their efforts to raise awareness and reduce overdose deaths related to heroin use within the county.
"In 2012, there were 161 cases where deaths were attributed by medical examiner office to be attributed to heroin overdose... That is a 50 percent increase over 2011," FitzGerald said.
Gilson said Cuyahoga County has been at epidemic levels for a while.
"The numbers keep getting worse, if you go back to 2007 up to 2012, we've seen a 400 percent increase, a four-fold increase in just deaths due to heroin," Gilson said.
Gilson said there are several factors contributing to the increase.
"We had people who were addicted to prescription pain killers and now because of the cheaper nature of heroin and the widespread availability, they're switching here," Gilson said.
The real risk lies with people who are experimenting with the dangerous drug, as well as users who get off heroin then go back taking the same amount as when they stopped.
"If they go back to where they left off after all those bumps, that's a fatal dose to them," Gilson said.
MetroHealth emergency medicine Dr. Joan Papp said by the time they get involved, it may be too late.
"When people are brought in, often times they're brought in by a family member or dropped off at the front door. They may be completely unresponsive; they may be blue," Papp said.
She said naloxone is the antidote for overdosing. They're hoping it will help save lives when users feel themselves overdosing on heroine. Papp said the drug is not addictive and counters heroin's efficacy.
They offer free kits that include the drug through the county's free clinic every Friday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. She said there are instructions for use inside the kits, but they're also willing to teach users and family members how to administer the drug.
"This drug is imperative it reaches the population that is overdosing and dying because every minute and every second without oxygen counts," Papp said.