Ohio and its 26 Million Dollar Problem

America is being ravaged by heroin and prescription pills. The opioid addiction has long reached the status of epidemic, and an argument for pandemic could be made. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said in his final report last year that 1 in 3 American homes are somehow directly affected by opioid addiction. Ohio is the epicenter of this disaster. That’s no argument. ohio-and-26-million-dollar-problem Home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the state is also currently home to the most deaths caused by opioid overdoses in our nation. Last year, Ohio accounted for 7.4% of all US opioid deaths, as reported by the Dayton Daily News. Making matters worse, Ohio ranks seventh in population. Consider the fact that this epidemic is nationwide, and this means six other states have more people but fewer opioid deaths. Still doesn’t sound so bad? California has over three times as many people as Ohio, and that’s just according to the census. Homelessness is both a rampant problem in California, and over a quarter of the homeless abuse drugs other than alcohol. Still, California ranked second behind Ohio for number of opioid deaths, having 82 fewer last year. The people of Ohio need help. Luckily, they recently got some – to the tune of $26,000,000 in fact. But before we get into that, let’s talk a little more about how Ohio came to be the face of America’s opioid problem. Then let’s discuss how and why the state just received 26 million bucks, what’s going to be done with the money, and whether or not it will actually help.

How Ohio became a War Zone

In the early 2000s, there was a wave of opioid over-prescription across the country. Two things in particular led to this: corruption and doctor shopping. In the early 1980s, doctors began using opioids to treat cancer patients with chronic pain. Then in 1986, the World Health Organization suggested opioids be used to treat cancer patients with moderate pain, not just chronic and/or severe. The idea became fact. Logically, the next step was to treat pain in non-cancer patients with opioids. The pharmaceutical industry led the campaign. Why not? If doctors and scientists were pushing for my product, I would be thrilled, and I would utilize sales strategies. Well, big pharma did just that, and eventually medical clinics were handing out opioids like hotcakes. They became known as ‘pill mills,’ it got so bad. Although law enforcement successfully shut down a lot of these mills, over-prescription is still a huge problem. Murthy’s aforementioned report also said there were enough opioid pills prescribed every year to give every adult in the country a full bottle and some. In fact, there are as many opioid prescriptions in Ohio as there are people. Sam Quinones wrote a book called Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic in 2015. He researched pill mills extensively, and talks about how the late 2000s saw a heavy crackdown on them. This was a success in its own right, but the street value of pills shot up because of this success. Heroin provided a cheaper alternative. This happened nationwide, and is the reason behind our current epidemic. Yet as Quinones points out in his book, “Ohio is really the center of this whole problem.” So for whatever reason, Ohio suffered worst from the prescription-to-needle scene that played out in America. This is how they became the face of the opioid epidemic. Something even more sinister has been adding to the death toll lately, though, a silent killer called fentanyl.

Ohio and Fentanyl

Drug dealers are always looking for ways to make more money. Adding fentanyl to heroin is a goldmine. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which is 50 times stronger then heroin itself. Prince, the late musician who along with Madonna essentially owned music in the ‘80s, died from a fentanyl overdose. So did 590 Ohioans in 2014. Flash forward two years to last year, and 1,155 Ohioans died this way. Laced heroin has become quite an epic problem. Even worse, some heroin batches contain carfentanil, a substance 50-100 times stronger than fentanyl! It’s used to tranquilize elephants. You read that correctly. Elephant tranquilizer is being laced into heroin and then injected into unsuspecting addicts. A “hot shot” as its known, can kill in a matter of seconds. Carfentanil, unlike fentanyl, is not approved for human consumption whatsoever.

The Aftermath

It would be lovely to be able to speak of these atrocities as history. However, the aftermath of Ohio’s transition from prescriptions to needles continues today. Things are especially bad in Montgomery County, where last year seven people were treated for emergency drug overdoses every single day. A total of 2,255 county residents visited the ER for overdoses. That’s almost twice as many people that fatally overdosed in all of the state. Indicating that there is a pocket of residents in desperate need of help, 9.5% of these ER patients were repeat visitors. One Montgomery County man visited the emergency room eight separate times as a result of his overdoses. All data was compiled by the Dayton & Montgomery County Public Health Department, and given to Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley. The data fell into the right hands. Dan Foley is the county’s commissioner, but also head of the Community Overdose Action Team. He is leading a county-wide battle, and he understands the plight of the residents. That’s why he will use this data to inform his county of just how bad things are. “We need good date to help us target our limited resources as we work toward reducing the number of opiate deaths in our community,” said Foley. “This report about emergency room usage… is the kind of information that the community will begin to see on a more frequent basis.” On the other end of the spectrum is Dr. Kent Harshbarger, coroner for Montgomery County. While Commissioner Foley sees things from an outside perspective, Dr. Harshbarger sees things up close and personal. When he received 145 fatally overdosed bodies this January, he realized how terrible things were. Here’s what Dr. Harshbarger told the Dayton Daily News: “There’s no end in sight. Our case totals have completely gone out of control for us as far as our ability to handle this amount of workload. It’s really been from overdose deaths.” So we have a state, Ohio, which is absolutely rampaged by heroin and prescription pills. Where things are among the worst statewide, Montgomery County, we have an overworked coroner and a commissioner who needs every bit of help he can get to use the county’s ‘limited resources.’ The sad case of having limited resources is statewide. Plus, Ohio as a whole tends to over-jail its addicts on top of under-treat them. Well, if money was the issue, which it always is, then now may be the time for Ohio to repair itself.

A 26 Million Dollar ‘Shot in the Arm’

Our friends at the Dayton Daily News published an article this April that helped relieve some of the depression caused by earlier news. Ohio will soon receive $26 million to help combat its opioid addiction crisis. The money comes as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, former president Barack Obama’s last great deed. See, back in 2014, the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, or CARA, was in the works. Obama was asking for $1.1 billion to fight the opioid crisis. (2014 set the record for most opioid deaths in America. Every year since has set a new record). Anyway, CARA was passed, but only $181 million was granted. The 21st Century Cures Act ended up getting the other billion dollars two years later. Half a billion was distributed last year, and the other half a billion will be distributed next year – provided Trump doesn’t pull any funny business. Of that half a billion dollars, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for spending $485 million, the vast majority. Ohio just recently received $26 million from the HHS. If the money were to have been distributed evenly among all fifty states, each would only receive $9.7 million. That goes to show just how badly Ohio needed this ‘shot in the arm’ in order to prevent all these shots in the arm.

How the Money will be Spent

The responsible party for spending the HHS grant is Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services, which plans to distribute the funds in various ways. Mainly, there are five areas that will be addressed: * Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, will be the main focus. After all, the purpose of the 21st Century Cures Act is for the Food and Drug Administration to have a wider range of research in order to provide more FDA-approved medicines and devices to combat opioid addiction. * Overall prevention will also be a main focus. This includes education, public awareness campaigns, and even the providing of Narcan to law enforcement. If drug use can be prevented, addiction doesn’t even exist. * A third focus will be increased screening for signs of addiction at medical clinics. Think about it… if part of regular physical examinations was a screen for addiction, so many more people would be able to receive the help they need. This leads us to the fourth focus. * Financial support for addiction recovery will also be addressed with the HHS funding. This will come as tremendous help, since it literally seems like there cannot be enough addiction recovery centers in Ohio. * The fifth general focus point of the grant is a sad one. I did not even fully realize the need for such funding, but upon further reading, I understand how this could be an issue. Part of the $26 million will be spent on “addressing secondary trauma among first responders,” according to the Dayton Daily News, linked above. The implications here are huge. Fentanyl and carfentanil are so incredibly potent that law enforcement officials are actually being harmed by simply making a drug bust. Therefore, money must be spent on methods to reduce harm to arresting officers. Airborne fentanyl and/or carfentanil from a crime scene can have serious effects.

In Conclusion

I have a friend, whose name for this story will be Cathy. I don’t live in Ohio, but Cathy does. I live in New York, which ranked third on that list I mentioned before. I lost one friendship to heroin. However, I know four people who have died from heroin. Cathy knows twelve. She personally knows twelve people who have perished at the hands of heroin. She personally believes that at least five of them were sold fentanyl-laced stuff. Between the two of us, we know sixteen people who have died from opioid overdoses. Think about how many people total were affected by these 16 deaths. Now think about the fact that Cathy and I are simply two people from the first and third most war-torn states in the opioid excursion. Let’s just pray that this money helps. If you or a loved one is in the throes of a heroin or prescription pill addiction, please, please, PLEASE seek help today. Now. The time is right now. The next batch could be a killer.    

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