Opioids including prescription pills and illicit substances like heroin have been ravaging the United States for multiple decades now, but the rates of deaths, overdose, and addiction have reached alarming levels over the past few years. No state is immune from the national opioid crisis but some states like Ohio have been hit particularly hard. Ohio currently ranks behind only West Virginia for a number of opioid deaths per capita. 2015 to 2017 alone saw over 12,000 opioid-related deaths in Ohio.
There have been several ideas, plans, and changes implemented in the Buckeye State over the last several months but now a Dayton-based Ohio State Representative is hoping to continue the path of progress with a new comprehensive plan and package to attack the opioid crisis.
Representative Jim Butler (R) of Ohio’s District 41 will be introducing the package of comprehensive opioid reforms to the Ohio State Legislature where it is expected to draw significant support.
“You could never guarantee that something’s going to work, but it at least it has a likelihood of working, whereas, what we have been doing over many decades now is not working,” said Butler.
Butler’s Opioid Plan
Butler wants to attack the opioid crisis on four fronts: More and better treatment facilities for opioid addicts, criminal justice reform meant to tackle distribution and drug trafficking, reducing the number of opioid addicts cycling in and out of Ohio correctional facilities, and forming better outreach programs regarding opioids and their potentially damaging effects.
Butler spoke on the failed ‘War on Drugs’ and how standard criminal justice proceedings surrounding addiction just aren’t working. He pointed to other legislators’ fear of commitment to new and different programs as an obstacle but one that would have to be overcome. Butler believes law enforcement and officials shouldn’t only attempt what they think will work, but practices and programs that have been scientifically demonstrated to work. If Butler’s plan can’t stop the flow of addiction and death, he already has his next idea, “If it fails, try something else. But keep trying.”
Though Ohio has been hit particularly hard during the opioid crisis, there are signs that the state is making steps forward. Both the state and the federal government have been working against opioids in the Buckeye State with the number of overdose deaths falling for the first time in several years in 2017. “The good news is Ohio is seeing significant progress in reducing the number of prescription opioids available for abuse, and as a result, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths that don’t also involve fentanyl are at their lowest level since 2009,” said Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Director Dr. Mark Hurst. “This progress is significant because prescription opioid abuse is frequently a gateway to heroin and fentanyl use.”
Butler isn’t worried only about opioid addiction and deaths but all addiction and steps to prevent it or treat it. Butler knows that opioids are essentially the drug of choice for now like cocaine was in the 80s or barbiturates were in the 60s and 70s. The goal is not just to tackle opioids – but addiction altogether. According to Butler “It’s always going to be something, which demands a change in how addiction is approached by law enforcement and other officials.”
A powerful combination of federal and state effort down to community hospital outreach is one of the main reasons Ohio is making progress. It’s hard to put a finger on which of these efforts is causing the drop-off but the federal effort against the opioid crisis has undoubtedly helped Butler’s cause. Butler’s comprehensive plan against opioids comes with other recent aid to the Buckeye State and the country.
Steps Taken on National Level Against Opioid Crisis
The Trump Administration and its Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken several steps to help slow the progress of opioid’s destruction across the country and have extended extra resources to states like West Virginia and Ohio. In September the federal government sent Ohio $71.5 million in aid to help combat the crisis over a two-year period. The money has already been earmarked for expanding the use of three FDA-approved drugs and expand community outreach efforts including education and expansion of community health centers.
The federal fight has been ongoing for several years but has seen a focus with a declaration of the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. The declaration allows states more wiggle room with federal dollars and to help start new programs. Since the original declaration, the health emergency has been extended numerous times and is still in place today. The DOJ has blocked opioid prescriptions from two Ohio doctors, shut down an international drug trafficking ring, and shut down a California-based dark website that sold prescription opioids and other illicit substances.
As part of the 21st Century Cures Act, The US Department of Health and Human Services recently released $1 billion in federal money to help US states and territories against opioid abuse. The funds are part of a larger effort being undertaken by the DHHS known as the State Targeted Opioid Response Program, which also received help in funding and planning from the 21st Century Cures Act.
The entire country is battling the opioid epidemic and Ohio is leading the charge where the crisis is hitting hardest. There are signs of improvement for Ohio and its residents with people like Butler helping to find something that works. Positive results in Ohio could set a plan for the rest of the country.