Cuyahoga County sets new record for number of heroin overdose deaths

CLEVELAND - The heroin crisis, according to the New York Times, is killing almost as many Americans as the AIDS crisis did at its height.

Local leaders are pushing for major solutions as more people die from overdosing on heroin in Ohio, than anywhere else in the country.

“If you use this, you don’t get a second chance. In many cases, if it’s laced with fentanyl, you’re dead,” said Bill Denihan, the CEO of the ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County.

Denihan works every day to make sure people don’t die from using heroin, but his job has become harder than ever before.

There were 228 overdose deaths last year in Cuyahoga County. That is relatively nothing compared to what will likely be more than 500 deaths in 2016.

“What we’re missing is long-term sober living environments, not just two or three months, six or seven months,” said Denihan.

Denihan says local governments are so overwhelmed in Ohio, where one study says one in every nine overdose deaths occur, there are no beds left in recovery centers to help addicts trying to stay sober.

“We can’t be saying to people anymore, wait a week or two, that’s not the right thing to do. If somebody goes to the ER with a broken arm, we don’t tell them, wait a week or two,” he said.

But there are success stories. In Switzerland for instance, after a record high number of overdose deaths, the government implemented a safe, supervised heroin use program. In ten years, overdose deaths dropped by 50% and 82% of patients using the program no longer sought out heroin on the streets, but relied on safe, sterilized, government sanctioned heroin.

Denihan said the problem is that programs like Switzerland’s are expensive and difficult to get supported.

“That may work just fine in all those other areas, we’ve got to find out what works in our community,” he said.

There have been some success stories in Cuyahoga County, though, so far in 2016,  a Naloxone access program called Project Dawn has saved 200 lives.

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