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Ohio’s drug epidemic tearing families, communities apart

Opiate addiction and abuse and misuse of prescription drugs in the state has skyrocketed in recent years, and it’s no secret Ohio’s drug problem is no longer only in its biggest cities.

It’s everywhere.

“We woke up one morning and all of a sudden we had an epidemic,” Washington County Sheriff Larry R, Mincks, Sr. said recently as a guest on Town Hall Ohio, OFBF’s weekly public affairs radio program.

He and panelists Andrea Boxill from the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team and Tim Maglione from the Ohio State Medical Association discussed Ohio’s drug problems, why it is more prevalent than ever and what Ohioans can do to help fight back.

Each agreed that combating what state and local officials have labeled an “epidemic” will take more than the combined efforts of government, law enforcement and the medical community. It will take a lot of honest discussion from school officials, parents and kids about the dangers of drugs.

“This is a disease,” Boxill said, noting there were 2,482 overdose deaths in Ohio in 2014. “When people say they are blindsided by it, that is a genuine, sincere statement. It arises very quickly and very acutely.”

She said the average age of a drug abuser is 24 and that person has no prior history of arrests or treatment for drug addiction.

“It’s going across all (socio-economic) levels,” Mincks said, noting that more people die of overdoses in the state than are killed by drunk drivers every year.

Drugs are big business in Ohio, Mincks said, and while arresting drug dealers is a major focus, criminalizing those who use is becoming less important than helping them find the treatment they need to stop using. Washington County has established programs to help addicts who need treatment.

Mincks said one reason drug abuse is on the rise is that prescription drug abuse became more prevalent when oxycontin was being heavily prescribed for pain. When it became harder to find because of prescription regulations, users turned to heroin and other street drugs as an alternative.

New regulations and better communication within the medical community are helping control the prescriptions for pain medications, but Maglione said more are needed, including a holistic approach to treating pain such as physical therapy, acupuncture or a chiropractor.

Pushing for better and more accessible treatment options, as well as keeping the lines of communication open about the dangers of drug abuse is a major part of fighting the battle. Gov. John Kasich’s “Start Talking” program is a good place to start, Boxill said.

“Families are broken … there are health-care costs, costs of incarceration, children placed in protective services,” she said, noting it all has a cost in taxpayer dollars. “It’s no longer just ‘them;’ it’s all of us.”

More information about combating the rise in drug abuse both in your family and your community can be found at mha.ohio.gov/gcoat. Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has an information and referral line for Ohioans seeking assistance at 877-275-6364.

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.