COLUMBUS — It’s a bleak picture: Parents overdosing in front of their kids, an Ohioan dying every few hours every day from heroin abuse, county coroners trying to find more room to store the resulting dead bodies.
State lawmakers have moved to increase penalties against traffickers, provide more services for addicted Ohioans and pump additional state funding into efforts to prevent drug use.
Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine urged an audience of 1,200-plus police officers, faith leaders and representatives of other groups Feb. 14 to take further steps at the local level to help address Ohio’s ongoing heroin epidemic.
“… The communities that are really making some progress in this area are communities that have come together — it’s really been a spontaneous, grassroots effort — to do things and bring everybody together, the business community, law enforcement community, educators, the services clubs, but also the faith-based communities,” he said.
To that end, DeWine played host Tuesday to a second annual opioid summit at a suburban Columbus church, where attendees heard presentations and panel discussions on local efforts to address drug addiction.
They heard from people like Mollie Hedges, a teacher and member of an emerging effort in Pickaway County that has brought together educators, the health care community, public agencies and law enforcement to cooperate and collaborate.
In the past year or so, the group has published and distributed a guide to help parents dealing with drug issues and looked for ways to reach incarcerated addicts before they return to the streets, among other initiatives.
“We are making progress,” Hedges said during a panel discussion that focused on coalition building.
There were lots of other ideas mentioned during the summit’s morning session — job and family services offices visiting jails to enroll addicted inmates into programs, deputies mentoring addicts as they work to turn their lives around, health inspectors delivering fliers to help people identify signs of addiction and places to turn for help, and proactive drop-off programs to dispose of unneeded prescription drugs before they fall into the wrong hands.
Such efforts are having an impact, DeWine said. Thus the goal of Tuesday’s summit.
“If they come away with one idea that they can actually implement in their community that makes a difference, then certainly the trip here has been worth it for them,” he said.
DeWine acknowledged drug addiction trends in Ohio — unintentional overdose deaths have been on the rise in recent years.
“The bad news is, I don’t think we’ve bottomed out of this opiate epidemic yet,” he said. “… We’re certainly not out of this, or we’re not even starting to come out of this.”
And the good news?
DeWine offered, “Lives are being saved every single day in local communities by people who are doing things at that local level: getting someone into treatment, helping them stay in treatment, when they get out of treatment making sure they don’t go back to the same neighborhood, maybe give them a transition. New ideas are starting to spread in regard to K-12 education.”
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.