Heroin is not just a central Ohio problem; it's a national epidemic.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, with that message, hosted a community forum Friday, June 13 at Harrison College in Grove City. He brought along central Ohio experts to discuss heroin abuse in the state. Local law enforcement, health care, school and government officials were among those in attendance.
Based on data from county coroners across Ohio, DeWine said the number of heroin overdose deaths in the state in 2013 exceeded 1,000, although that doesn't include other deaths in which heroin might have played a role.
"The number of heroin deaths is going up dramatically," DeWine said. "Unfortunately, we've not seen any leveling off of this."
DeWine said heroin has probably never been cheaper or more widely available.
"Just as you're ordering a pizza, you can order heroin if you know who to call, and the price is not much different," DeWine said. "It's very abundant. It's very cheap. It's an epidemic."
Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said heroin once was an inner-city problem, but now, it's spread everywhere, including the suburbs and rural areas, with users ranging from 16 to 60 years of age.
"The demographics have changed substantially," he said. "In some instances, it's become a family problem."
Wayne Campbell, founder and president of the non-profit Tyler's Light, named in memory of Campbell's son who died of an overdose in 2011, said the organization started with students as the primary audience. Now, students are coming forward saying their parents are addicts, he said.
"We're asking them to speak up," Campbell said. "Just talk. Just start the conversation."
Upper Arlington City Schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff, a panel member at DeWine's forum, said it's easy to pretend heroin abuse and addiction isn't a problem that would happen to "my child."
"We know this can happen to any child from any family," he said. "Not only can it, it is ... These things can happen here and can happen to any family."
Imhoff said districts are putting together coalitions to attack all facets of the problem.
"As schools, we have to do more," he said. "While schools can't do it alone, progress can't be made if schools aren't at the table."
DeWine said addressing the heroin epidemic will take grassroots efforts in every community as well efforts to promote education and prevention.
"I think there's a general consensus in the state that there's not enough treatment," DeWine said. "We are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. This is not only a supply problem. It's a demand problem, and we have to start dealing with the demand."
The Rev. Tom Thompson, founder and executive director of Refuge Ministries, a rehabilitation program for men that operates in Franklinton and Lancaster as well as a church in Grove City, said addiction is a "holistic problem" that requires a comprehensive approach.
"It takes community support to walk this out long term," Thompson said.
The forum in Grove City was the 13th in a series that DeWine has hosted across the state. At the conclusion of the series, a committee will be formed to review the forum findings and create recommendations, according to a news release from the attorney general's office.