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Heroin epidemic: How did we get here?

5:59 PM, Apr 9, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- An Ohioan dies of a drug overdose every six hours. Usually it's an opioid painkiller or, more recently, heroin.

Suburban teens are the fastest growing group of heroin users in Northeast Ohio. Experts call the problem epidemic.

You know those little smiley and frowny face pain charts in the doctor's office? Well, in the late 90s, a push started in the medical community to start treating pain as the fifth vital sign.

Doctors started prescribing narcotic painkillers by the millions..

In 2004, state medical boards were encouraged to make undertreatment of pain a punishable offense.

Doctors were essentially forced to treat patients with drugs many believed might be too strong or addictive.

In fact, in 2010, doctors and pharmacists gave out enough opiate painkillers to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month.

And by the middle of the decade, we had a prescription addiction epidemic.

The opioid pain pills, like oxycontin, oxycodone, percocet and vicodin, were usually reserved for cancer patients. They work great, but too often were being prescribed for people with back pain, arthritis and other chronic pain conditions.

When it was time to ween them off, many patients were helplessly addicted. So another push started to limit the amount of painkillers prescribed.

But there were already thousands of people hooked.

Without access to their meds, they started hitting the street.

Heroin is cheaper, easier to get and a much faster high. It's also the same derivative as what's in those opioid prescriptions.

Heroin is an old drug, but now it's a new killer epidemic.

Since 1999, unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio increased 372 percent. Heroin and opioid drugs killed 161 people in Cuyahoga County alone last year..

That's more deaths than all other illegal drugs combined, more than homicides, suicides and fatal car accidents.

The majority of deaths happen in the suburbs. The users are predominately white and women are the fastest growing users.                                         

WKYC-TV

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