PICKERINGTON, Ohio — Ohio’s continuing addictions epidemic is leading to fatigue among people working to save overdose victims and outright hostility toward addicts by some community members, officials battling the epidemic said Wednesday at a forum that looked at the biggest challenges presented by the epidemic and explored top-priority solutions.
Columbus emergency room physician Dr. Ryan Squier described the attitude encounters regularly when trying to stress to people the scope of the problem: “Not my child, not my area.”
The forum was sponsored by the Ohio News Media Association and the Ohio Association of Broadcasters.
Cheri Walter, executive director of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, said she’s never before seen such an acute addiction crisis in her 35 years in the field.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp said treatment, education and enforcement are key to addressing the epidemic. Deputies began taking overdose victims to detox centers under a program Tharp launched three years ago.
Too many people have a negative attitude toward addicts — as if they aren’t worth saving because they’ve brought their problems upon themselves, said Jennifer Lloyd, director of drug abuse outreach initiatives with the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. But such opinions don’t fit the reality of the epidemic, she said, telling the story of a 14-year-old boy injected with heroin by his father.
Regardless of how people became addicts, their lives have value, Lloyd said.
“The choice for anybody shouldn’t be a death sentence,” she said.
The epidemic driven by prescription painkillers and heroin is being called the worst in the country’s history. In Ohio alone, 3,050 died from overdose in 2015. The figure is expected to jump again for 2016 and go even higher this year.
The state’s approach must be as urgent as if 10 people a day were dying from terrorism or a new plague, said DeWine, keynote speaker at the forum. DeWine, a Republican expected to run for governor next year, said if elected he would push for mandatory K-12 anti-addiction education as part of the state’s efforts to fight the epidemic.
The education would have to be age-appropriate and based on programs proven to work, DeWine said.
“Somehow we’ve got to bring to this debate, to this discussion, to this fight, a sense of urgency. There are lives that are stake,” he said.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/andrew-welsh-huggins