Oct 13: This article has been updated to reflect the progress of the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative Summit, and subsequent drug prevention techniques implemented across the state of Ohio.
Government officials in Ohio and eight other states convened in Cincinnati at the end of the summer for the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative Summit and are continuing to make progress in their fight against opiate abuse.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were among those who took part in the conference, aimed at collaborating to stop drug abuse. Drug overdose deaths in Ohio increased from 2,531 in 2014 to 3,050 in 2015, according to a press release from the Ohio Department of Health.
During the summit, O’Connor discussed the issues that drug abusers face during the criminal process. O’Connor believes the establishment of a more comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery practice is necessary for the drug epidemic to alleviate itself. With the current arrest protocol, many drug criminals become repeat offenders once they are released from prison.
Over the past five years, Ohio has taken action to fix the pain caused by drug addiction.
The creation of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team (GCOAT) in 2011 brought more focus to the problem at hand through summits that addressed problems surrounding opioids, fentanyl and other drugs.
“As a result, we believe Ohio has developed one of the most aggressive and comprehensive approaches in the nation for taking on the opiate epidemic,” said Eric Wandersleben, director of media relations and outreach at Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Prescription opioids have been a main source of conflict for those trying to fight drug abuse, and many addiction specialists blame their easy accessibility. The GCOAT tried creating a more extensive and mobile record-keeping system to prevent overprescription.
“On the prescription opioids front, data shows we are making good progress,” Wandersleben said.
“Ohio has had a strong focus on reducing the prescription opioids supply available for diversion and abuse. We have done this through law enforcement efforts as well as by working with medical professionals to establish three sets of prescribing guidelines to ensure that patients receive the pain treatment they need while reducing leftover pain medications,” Wandersleben said.
With new legislation up for discussion later this year, Ohio residents can expect heavier restrictions on prescription medication.
Additionally, Kasich recently pushed through legislation that legalized medical marijuana in Ohio. This new legislation could affect the different types of prescription drugs Ohio residents abuse.
“At this point, it is too early to tell what impact the medical marijuana program will have on prescribing habits, as the Department of Commerce and the Board of Pharmacy have until September 2018 to implement the program,” Wandersleben said. “That said, this is something our partners involved with the program will certainly monitor.”
But politicians in Ohio are not the only ones with a stake in the drug crisis, and the process of passing drug legislation is one that should include recovering addicts.
“The problem is that the people that are being more involved — whether it’s your senators, representatives, the governor or the mayor of these local communities — they have zero idea on how to treat drug addiction,” said Josh Butcher, a recovering addict and Ohio Addiction Recovery Center hotline operator. “They’re going off of papers that have been written by other professors and doctors… but a lot of what is lacking in those areas are people that have been there themselves.”
As of Oct, 7, nine neighboring states have joined the initiative, with officials ranging from criminal officers, welfare workers, addiction specialists, health experts and pharmacists forming an action team. The day-to-day work of professionals in these fields uniquely positions them to play a major role in slowing and reversing the tide of the opioid and heroin crisis.
When the officials reconvene at the end of 2016, they hope to see the the initiative making progress in terms of making the drug databases more efficient and accessible, looking at the impact the crisis has on children in difficult family situations, and teaching medical professionals how to identify and treat opioid addiction.
In the meantime, with the extremely evident problem of heroin and opioid abuse in Ohio, public officials have made an effort to outline a new plan that will combat the crisis, with emphasis on preventing drug usage before it starts, particularly in the younger demographic.
Some of the suggested techniques include increasing the consequences for fentanyl and opioid abuse, increasing the availability of naloxone and creating a more welcoming approach to treatment of drug problems.
The plan also involves allowing the Ohio Department of Health to lead and develop a public awareness campaign that will educate citizens about appropriate opioid usage.
“The government’s response must jettison traditional notions of how government works – and think outside the box,” O’Connor said.