WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Department of Health released new statistics on heroin-related deaths, and the number jumped by nearly 40 percent from 2011 to 2012.
The state says 680 people died of heroin overdoses in 2012, up from 426 deaths in 2011. That number includes 48 in Mahoning County, 34 in Trumbull and 17 in Columbiana.
The heroin increase also drove the overall number of fatal drug overdoses to a record of 1,272 deaths in 2012, up from 1,154 the previous year.
Edward Dyer with Community Solutions in Warren is not surprised by the numbers. His agency has seen an increase in the number of clients using the drug.
“Half of the individuals at this point that we have met have either heroin or some other narcotic that they regularly use,” said Dyer.
Dyer said what is helping to drive the numbers up is the availability and cost of the drug. Much of the local supply is coming from the East Coast with other pipelines stretching to nearby Detroit.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has called the heroin deaths an “epidemic” and created a statewide investigative unit to crack down on heroin dealers. U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach in Cleveland has labeled the problem a “public health crisis.”
Authorities are optimistic that a law that took effect last month increasing access to a drug overdose antidote will reduce the number of deaths.
Dyer said a changing trend in age could also be helping to spike the number of fatal overdoses. Dyer said users are getting younger and they are less experienced.
“Each time they obtain heroin, they are not necessarily obtaining the same strength of heroin,” said Dyer.
Charles Daniels, a counselor at Community Solutions, also works with inmates with past addictions. He says many leave prison and go back to the drug thinking they can use the same dosage they used before.
“They come out and all of a sudden they try that dosage. They don’t have the wisdom of the drug,” said Daniels. “Where the old type heroin users would know how to help a person when they went comatose, the young people don’t know that. They usually panic, and they leave the person stranded and they end up overdosing.”
Law enforcement is working to combat the problem while substance abuse agencies work to provide awareness as well as treatment and prevention.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.