By Kevin Kelley
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Astrab has seen so many heroin cases in his courtroom in recent years, he decided something must be done.
Astrab, the latest in a series of public officials to warn of a growing epidemic of heroin abuse in Northeast Ohio, has organized a series of town hall forums entitled “Heroin in the Suburbs.” The first of four scheduled to take place in the Westshore during the current school year will begin at 7 p.m. Nov. 6 at Westlake Porter Public Library, 27333 Center Ridge Road.
Astrab will be joined by a panel of experts, including Joan Papp, a physician at MetroHealth Medical Center; Deborah Naiman, a Cuyahoga County prosecutor; Henry Hilow, a defense attorney; and Jeff Capretto, special agent with the Westshore Enforcement Agency. The discussion will be moderated by Monica Robins, senior health correspondent at WKYC-TV3.
According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, there was a 400-percent increase in opioid-related overdoses statewide between 1999 and 2012. Heroin killed 107 county residents in 2011.
Capretto told West Life the heroin epidemic began about two years ago.
Initially people become addicted to opiate-based prescription painkillers, Capretto said, and move to heroin when their prescription runs out.
“Street heroin is very cheap,” Capretto said.
Even so, he said, the demand is growing, and many drug dealers are switching from other drugs to the heroin trade to get in on the action.
An increasing number of burglaries, thefts and robberies are being committed by individuals seeking money to fuel their heroin habit, Capretto said.
Like Astrab, Capretto said heroin addiction now is a problem among young suburbanites, striking members of prominent families.
“It doesn’t matter – race, color, creed, financial status,” he said.
The goal of the criminal justice system, Capretto said, should be to get first-time criminals into treatment for addiction early. The goal of law enforcement is to target the heroin traffickers, he added.
Astrab said the goal of the forums is to raise awareness of the problem and inform parents how to keep their families safe.
“Everyone involved in these forums has one goal – prevent at least one person from being hurt by heroin,” the judge said. “If we can do that, this effort will absolutely be worth it.”
Additional forums are scheduled to take place on Feb. 20 at the Bay Village Branch Library, March 6 at North Olmsted Branch Library and April 9 at St. Edward High School in Lakewood. All forums will start at 7 p.m.