New data reveals steady rise in heroin deaths throughout Ohio.


COLUMBUS -- "There is a heroin epidemic in Ohio," Attorney General Mike DeWine declared at a Monday morning news conference.

"Communities have to wake up. If you don't think you have a problem, you're probably wrong," DeWine continued.

Using data gathered from coroners across the state, DeWine showed how the use of heroin has increased dramatically during the last four years.

"Local law enforcement understands the problem," DeWine said. "As I have traveled the state, over and over sheriffs and police and coroners tell me how bad it is. Unfortunately, there are people out there who don't believe heroin is really in their communities. They don't want to believe that this can be them -- that this can be their child who is addicted or who is going to die from a heroin overdose. The numbers tell a different story. We know that, at minimum, 606 families across this state were directly impacted in 2012 by a heroin death."

To combat the increased use of heroin, DeWine announced a new effort his office is undertaking to assist law enforcement agencies, community leaders and Ohio residents.

The attorney general's heroin unit, which will include investigators, lawyers and drug abuse awareness specialists, will assist in combating issues associated with the heroin epidemic, such as crime, addiction and overdose deaths.

"New data our office has gathered suggests 11 people die in Ohio every week from a heroin overdose," DeWine said. "Heroin abuse and addiction has been a problem for a long time, one I keep hearing about as I talk with parents, prosecutors and law enforcement around the state. These new efforts to fight heroin will not be the full solution to Ohio's heroin problem, but by providing what services we can, we hope to save lives and prevent addiction."

The decision to create the specialized unit was made after new data gathered in the past month revealed a 107 percent increase in heroin deaths among more than half of Ohio's counties. The data was collected from 47 Ohio coroner's offices with complete heroin overdose data for 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The results are as follows:

  • 2010: 292 heroin overdose deaths

  • 2011: 395 heroin overdose deaths

  • 2012: 606 heroin overdose deaths

The reporting counties with the largest number of heroin overdoses in 2012 include:

  • Cuyahoga County: 161

  • Franklin County: 73

  • Hamilton County: 54

  • Montgomery County: 93

In attendance at the press conference were the parents of 20-year-old Marin Riggs who said heroin is the definition of heartbreak for them.

"Marin was 20 and headed to college to become an ultrasound technician," said Heidi Riggs. "Her smile, which lit up the room, was extinguished by her heroin addiction, which lured her back after six months of sobriety. We hope to encourage other parents to talk to their kids and know that heroin is readily available in every suburb of every city in every state for about $10."

The Ohio Attorney General's Office also issued a heroin contact list for law enforcement, community leaders and the public to help find resources and answer questions.

"Despite major efforts to fight the heroin epidemic on the state, local and national level, the problem is not going away, and people are continuing to die," DeWine said. "Heroin injects addiction, deception, and death in the lives of so many young people, and we hope this new effort can save lives."