Friday, February 3rd, 2017
Kasich: State gives aid to fight drug woes
Local effort is the key
By William Kincaid
COLUMBUS - Ohio is doing more than other states to combat the drug epidemic, Gov. John Kasich said this week at an annual forum sponsored by The Associated Press.
"We've spent a billion dollars. We have more programs fighting drugs than I think any state in the country, constantly improving what we're doing on the issue of drugs," Kasich said. "But what people need to understand is we've given them the tools. They need to use them."
The drug problem will not be fixed from the top down, Kasich argued, calling on individuals, religious leaders and educators to fight the scourge of opiate addiction.
To bolster the fight, Kasich has proposed within his budget a requirement that public colleges and universities embed drug awareness and education into their teacher preparation curriculum and expanded access to the Ohio Automated RX Reporting System to drug courts, coroners conducting overdose investigations and the Department of Medicaid.
He also seeks to strengthen pharmacy board investigations, increase access to overdose-reversal drug Naloxone and engage local experts to better understand drug overdose deaths.
Kasich was asked if more could be done to help law-enforcement agencies battle drugs on the front lines and open up more rehabilitation spaces.
Local law enforcement might want to adapt their mission to a degree, Kasich said, pointing to the state highway patrol's prioritizing of drug busts.
The state has shut down pill mills, required doctors to report their prescribing methods to a pharmacy board and taken many other steps, the governor said.
"I'll put what we're doing up against anybody, and the issue is the hangover from the loose prescribing methods of opiates," Kasich insisted. "Now the key is to move to a point where the next generation doesn't get hooked on these things because these drugs are less available."
Moreover, he has and will continue to fight hard for Medicaid expansion to help in the battle, Kasich said.
"Because of that, we have the resources we've never had to be able to deal with the issue of mental health, the issue of drugs," he said.
Kasich also was asked if the state had anticipated addicts moving to the cheaper, readily available heroin after the clampdown on pill mills.
"What was the choice? Not crack down on opiates?" Kasich replied. "We're also a major artery for drug traffickers."
During a panel session earlier in the day Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, argued Kasich's budget proposal doesn't come close to addressing the state's opiate addiction.
He called for an all-encompassing fix, not a piecemeal approach.
"In order to truly do it, you have to educate young people, you have to give police the ability to deal with the problems on the streets every day, and you have to rehabilitate people," Schiavoni said.
House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, noted the complexity of treating drug addiction.
"Because of what happens to the physiology of a person once they become addicted, it is going to take some serious resources to combat this epidemic," Strahorn said.
Other state elected officials spoke about the seriousness of Ohio's drug addiction. Attorney General Mike DeWine said in 2016 an average of eight people died of an overdose each day in the state, a statistic that would have been even higher without naloxone.
"In my opinion it's worse than most Ohioans think it is," he said.
The communities responding best to the opiate crises are doing so with a grass-roots effort, DeWine said, reiterating Kasich's belief in a bottom-up approach.
"You have to have the law enforcement. You have to have the schools. You have to have the business community. You have to have the service groups, and you certainly have to have the faith-based community," DeWine said.
Ohioans are not going to arrest their way out of the problem, DeWine said, pointing to an initiative started in Lucas County in which a sheriff's officer is sent to an emergency room when people survive a drug overdose.
"Not to arrest them but rather to work with them to get them to treatment, to stay with them during treatment," DeWine said. "It's that type of program that makes a huge difference."
DeWine commented on the need to implement age-appropriate, scientifically-backed drug prevention education in every grade of K-12.
Secretary of State Jon Husted said medical professionals both in Ohio and nationwide need to stop prescribing so many opiates, which can lead to addiction.
"I don't know why we don't follow the CDC guidelines for the prescription of opiates," he said. "I think that would be a tremendously good step at trying to slow the tide."