Back in 2014 when Cleveland Magazine first examined the heroin problem in Northeast Ohio, what struck me was the loss.In 2013, heroin-related deaths — 194 in Cuyahoga County — topped homicides or suicides. It made up approximately 60 percent of drug deaths that year. When surveying the human toll, it was hard to imagine things getting worse. But we were wrong.
While Northeast Ohio had reached an important intervention point, we had not yet found rock bottom. Three years later, it’s still difficult to say if we’re there.
On the streets, heroin isn’t the only problem. The introduction of more lethal synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil has escalated an already mortally dangerous struggle. With more than 1,000 opioid-related deaths in Northeast Ohio last year and an increase in that number projected for 2017, what was a public health crisis has become a state of emergency.
As you’ll learn in "Our Epidemic," law enforcement, heath care officials, social service providers, civic and religious leaders, individuals with addiction and parents-turned-activists have rallied to the cause.
We’ve stepped up enforcement, put lifesaving naloxone in the hands of first responders, earmarked additional funding for treatment, increased awareness about addiction, implemented new models of intervention for overdose survivors, and enlisted individuals recovering from addiction to support others.
But it’s not enough. During a panel discussion Cleveland Magazine convened for this issue, Valeria Harper, the new CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, said it best: “We need more of everything.”
That begins with more money for treatment, enforcement and new ideas. It means more research on addiction and recovery. It means certifying more peer counselors to create fresh avenues to sobriety. And it means more understanding and compassion.
I hope that’s what you’ll take away from this issue. The path to addiction can be dark and swift. We must do more to bathe it in light and illuminate it with love.
“These are our neighbors. These are our co-workers,” said the Rev. Bob Stec, pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Parish, during our panel. “These are our classmates and friends.”