Heroin abuse has become an epidemic in Ohio, to judge by statistics collected by state Attorney General Mike DeWine. Unfortunately, East Ohio residents do not know the extent of the problem - because Belmont, Jefferson and Monroe counties did not provide numbers for DeWine's report.
Deaths from heroin overdoses increased dramatically last year and the trend is continuing, DeWine's report shows. Data from 47 of the state's 88 counties indicates 395 deaths caused by heroin in 2011, 606 in 2012 and 487 already this year.
An idea of the severity of the epidemic can be gained from noting that in 2012, there were 943 traffic fatalities in Ohio. Thus far this year, the toll has been 731 - and that is for all 88 counties.
Though DeWine's numbers are unsettling enough, they represent only about half the state's counties (though large urban areas are included). The actual number of heroin overdose deaths throughout the state is higher - perhaps hundreds more.
Many counties did not submit reports, DeWine's office told us. Some failed to do so because their data was incomplete. Others do not keep records of heroin overdose deaths. Still others simply did not bother to report.
In East Ohio, DeWine's report includes information from just one county, Harrison. It reported no heroin overdose deaths from 2010 through this year.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to believe no heroin overdose deaths have occurred in Belmont and Jefferson counties during the past three years.
Area residents already know we have a serious problem with drug abuse. Just as it appeared some progress was being made getting synthetic drugs off the street, heroin is making a comeback as a replacement.
"Communities have to wake up," DeWine said Monday. "If you don't think you have a problem, you are probably wrong."
He is absolutely right.
Authorities in Jefferson and Belmont counties should begin tracking heroin overdose deaths, if they do not already. If numbers are available, they should be submitted to DeWine's office.
Unless we know the extent of the epidemic, it will be impossible to battle it effectively - and heroin is a problem that needs to be addressed.