CEDARVILLE — With more than eight people dying each day from drug overdoses across the state, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine describes the “Face of Heroin” as “the Face of Ohio.”
It’s everywhere, he said, affecting about everyone.
“This is drowning the state,” DeWine said March 25 at a gathering of state and local officials, educators and business leaders converging at the Opera House here. “This is the worst drug epidemic I’ve seen in my lifetime … And we can’t arrest our way out of this problem. We don’t have a magic wand to make it go away.”
So what can be done?
“There is good news,” DeWine said. “I am an optimist … The communities making the most progress are communities where it got so bad that they just got sick of seeing people dying and they rose up – grassroots efforts – they rose up.”
DeWine was invited to speak at the Opera House by the Cedarville Historical Society as part of a program followed by a reception.
“It’s easy to become pessimistic,” he said. “But I would prefer a sense of urgency instead of pessimism. There are people all over this state doing amazing things.”
In addition to these grassroots community efforts, DeWine said educating children at a younger age is key, and further and more effective prevention is going to be vital.
“We can save people, but once they become addicted, it’s tough,” he said. “We have to get ahead of this thing.”
During his speech, DeWine showed three short videos produced by his team about the different things happening across Ohio with people on the front lines – advocates, professionals, addicts in recovery, family members of addicts – and most of all the impact the crisis is having on children.
“For some reason, we have not had the sense of urgency we need to have to bring this thing home, to help people understand how bad this really is,” he said. “When I think about this, I think about the kids.”
In a report from his office in February of this year, DeWine noted that Ohio’s child welfare system has seen a 19 percent increase in the number of children removed from parental custody since 2010. The state now has close to 14,000 children in custody. Untold numbers more likely still live in those situations, those conditions.
“We have more kids in foster care than we’ve ever had before,” DeWine said. “One half of all these kids are there because their parents are addicts. Tragically, children are being impacted.”
The report notes in 2015, 3,050 Ohioans died from drug overdoses, which is a more than 20 percent increase from the year before.
“One reason for the increase in overdose deaths in 2015 was fentanyl – a drug up to 50 times more potent than morphine,” DeWine said.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation reports that in 2015 more fentanyl came through its labs than in the previous five years combined. And fentanyl use and overdoese are still on the rise. In March 2016, DeWine said the BCI saw more reports of fentanyl than any month in its history.
“When I was a prosecutor, if we found heroin here it was a shock,” he said. “Even the people who were doing drugs and doing crazy things still had some psychological barrier and they wouldn’t do heroin. That psychological barrier must be totally gone. That stigma is certainly gone.”
During his speech, a law enforcement official told DeWine that 60 to 80 percent of all crime in Greene County is somehow drug related.
In addition to the Mexican drug cartel and how its business model thrives, DeWine also talked about the rampant use of Narcan, or nalaxone – a life-saving opiate antagonist used in overdose cases.
“If it was not for that, the numbers would be higher,” DeWine said. “Instead of 10 (per day) there would be 40.”
“This is the worst drug epidemic in U.S. History,” DeWine reiterated. “Forget what you know about who’d be using. This is in our rural areas, our urban areas – suburban areas… We have to look at why this is occurring. Why do we have so many people addicted?”
Three out of every four people using heroin today started out using pain medications, DeWine said.
“There’s this natural progression from pain meds to heroin,” he said. “Then there’s the movement to fentanyl. It’s coming in the mail – literally (from China)… And now there’s carfentanil. These drugs are just too dangerous … If it hits your skin, it could kill you.”
It also featured an Ohio woman who adopted numerous children – and continues to adopt children, many of whom are confused as to why their parents are lost to this addiction. One video featured an addict in long-term recovery who is now an advocate for the Families of Addicts Foundation – which is demonstrating, as many others have in the Miami Valley, that recovery is possible. There is hope, the woman said; there’s a better life without the use of deadly opiates.
That hope lies in the individual and it’s up to Ohio communities to rise up in this war.
Brian Evans is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.