Putting needles to numbers: How they're tracking the heroin epidemic in Summit County

Posted at 5:44 PM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-05 18:01:16-04

Fourteen counties make up Northeast Ohio — News 5 found one that's quantifying what many call an epidemic — tracking heroin the same way others monitor the flu and West Nile.

Summit County Health Department's Chief Epidemiologist, Richard Marountas, has put the heroin problem into easy-to-read charts, graphs and numbers since the summer of 2016. 

Marountas uses EpiCenter software, a statewide system used to track disease and outbreak, as well as some formats he's created himself.

"I download and clean the data, load it into the charts and then send that out," he explained. 

As for what he does on a day-to-day?

"It's research, it's science, it's social science," he told News 5. 

Ohio's heroin problem is commonly called an epidemic. He agreed.

"It's certainly one of the biggest public health problems I've encountered, if not the biggest."

But Marountas and his colleagues at Summit County's Health Department are tracking the problem in a way others aren't. 

There's no statewide database for all heroin overdoses, including emergency and police calls. 

Their EpiCenter database includes every overdose reported to hospitals.

Marountas compiles the most recent data daily, weekly, monthly, monitor and distribute it.

"It's important, not just for decision-makers and people directly fighting the opiate crisis, but even for friends and families and citizens to know when there's a big surge happening."

News 5 got in touch with all 13 counties in Northeast Ohio. They're all tracking the problem differently. 

We asked Marountas why it's so important to keep track.

"Knowing where outbreaks of overdoses are happening allows agencies to take a look and target resources better," he said. 

Resources come into a play for some counties that aren't or have difficulty tracking, but the formats developed by Marountas is helping. He's able to collect information for than just Summit County and he's sharing that information online here.

Here are what some other Northeast Ohio counties are tracking: 

  • Wayne County tracks drug-related deaths, reporting 16 in 2017
  • Trumbull County tracks overdoses, deaths, and kits including naloxone, reporting 60 with several others pending toxicology. 
  • Geauga County tracks drug-related deaths but 2017 numbers have not been provided to News 5 yet.
  • Columbiana County tracks the number of naloxone kits they've distributed, 201 so far. 

News 5 is waiting for numbers and information from several other counties we're in communication with.