Rootstown -- Portage County is not alone in the state when it comes to fighting heroin and the negative social consequences the rapidly spreading addiction to it and other opiate drugs has brought to every community.
The deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller and heroin addiction is linked, and on Oct. 13 the 150 people in attendance at a seminar titled "Raising Awareness & Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Portage County" at the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown were told addiction is not a moral or criminal issue, but a chronic disease like heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
Hosted by the Portage County Health Department, the Portage County Mental Health & Recovery Board and the Ohio Attorney General's Office, it showcased the problems addiction has created and what solutions state and local agencies are looking at to solving the crisis, which took the lives of thousands of Ohioans last year.
Portage County is one of 20 Ohio counties that had 25 or more fatal drug overdoses in 2014, said Alisha Nelson, a community outreach specialist with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's Heroin Unit.
In 2002, the number of Ohio counties with that many fatal overdoses was six, she said.
In 2015, 3,050 Ohio residents unintentionally overdosed on drugs and died, according to Ohio Department of Health data. Already, more than 30 people have died of unintentional drug overdoses in Portage County this year, according to Portage County coroner's office numbers.
Health experts, including Dr. Brian Welsh, medical director at Coleman Professional Services, said doctors who over-prescribed opiate painkillers over the past 20 years are partly to blame for the crisis. When patients could not afford $80 per pill, many turned to heroin.
At $10 to $20 per dose, "heroin remains the cheapest alternative," Welsh said.
Drug-seeking behavior leads to crime, including burglary, robbery, theft and human trafficking, but "we can't arrest our way out of this problem," said Dr. Joel Mowrey, MHRB's executive director.
A first step in fighting fatal overdoses is preventing them with the use of Narcan or naloxone, which when administered through the nose can stop opiate overdoses.
By the end of November, "all Portage County police officers will be carrying naloxone," Portage County Health Commissioner Joseph Diorio told the room.
Welsh also said he is a proponent of medically assisted treatment, which uses opioid "antagonist" drugs such as suboxone or Vivitrol to prevent addicts from getting high.
And in conjunction with detox, inpatient rehab, residential treatment programs, counseling, 12-step programs, MAT can be effective tools against addiction.
The state also has taken 21st century steps to prevent "doctor" shopping, including instituting the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, or OARRS, which can tell a doctor if their patient has been prescribed opiate painkillers in the past, Nelson said.
"We have some work to do, but there is hope," she said.
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