Pepper calls for state help for heroin problem

By Frank Lewis

April 15, 2014

By Frank Lewis


David Pepper, Democratic candidate for Ohio Attorney General, says the state has built its surplus on the backs of local municipalities by taking away local funds, and now he wants the state to give some of those funds back to help fight the war on heroin.

“The state’s surplus comes from having taken so much from local governments,” Pepper said. “Since its surplus has come from local government funds, and ironically, sadly, the state took that money at the very time that the heroin crisis was exploding, so the local governments like Portsmouth, like the county, had less resources the very moment where they needed it the most. So my view is, the state and the state legislatures, should, in the very least, be able to provide some of those funds back in the form of treatment dollars that can help local communities deal with this crisis. Medicaid expansion should also provide some funds for treatment.”

Pepper says the heroin problem is at the point of an epidemic.

“I think it’s an overwhelming problem everywhere,” Pepper said. “I know your (southern Ohio) region has faced it to a very high degree, but it’s not isolated to any region, to any city, to any part of the state. It’s everywhere I go - small town - big city. It started with the prescription drug crisis and as there was a crackdown on prescription drugs and not enough treatment for those addicted to prescription drugs, a vast number of those people moved to heroin, which was cheaper and more available.”

Pepper said, if all that is done with the problem of addiction is treat it criminally, not dealing with the health component, you get what he says exists now - a full blown crisis.

“I think we need to have a real sense of crisis level from state government,” Pepper said. “I haven’t really seen that. I’ve seen some town hall meetings and some small things but it’s similar to moving the chairs around the deck of the Titanic. We need a state government that is much more serious, putting much more resources into this and being much more comprehensive. We’ve got to view this, not just through the lens of criminal law, but as a public health crisis. We’ve got to approach it that way.”

Pepper has released a complete plan on how to deal with the heroin crisis in the state. In his plan, Pepper says Ohio’s heroin epidemic is not new. Deaths associated with heroin use have risen dramatically since 2010, a predictable consequence of the crackdown on “pill mills” without corresponding increase in available drug treatment, adding, “Yet the Attorney General’s office did not even begin analyzing heroin data until October 2013, years into the crisis. Since finally declaring an epidemic, DeWine has failed to offer a serious response, instead holding a series of town hall meetings and forming a poorly defined ‘$1 million heroin unit.”

Pepper’s plan includes treating heroin as a public health crisis; drive down demand by focusing on prevention, treatment, and the oversupply of opoids; saving lives through the use of the drug Narcan; crack down on suppliers and dealers and more support and training for local law enforcement.

Pepper said the problem needs to be approached through best practices - what is working in Ohio and in other states.

“There are many many people who need treatment who aren’t getting it, and I think the state needs to be a real partner to local governments in bringing resources to add capacity to that treatment all over the state,” Pepper said. “And I lay out ways to do that. We also have people that are dealing drugs that are killing people, and I think we need to do a lot more as a state, and the Attorney General in particular can play a lead role here, to make sure people who are selling heroin and heroin laced with other, even more deadly drugs, that we can trace back to those deaths, that we do everything we can to hold them accountable for those deaths, with, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter charges.”

Pepper said the state needs to make sure there are resources for more treatment for those needing treatment, and that the treatment dollars are well spent.

“I’ve met a lot of prosecutors who are frustrated because they will prosecute a dealer, and that dealer will be right back out on probation and be back out and keep on doing what they’re doing,” Pepper said. “I think, starting with the Attorney General’s office, we’ve got to send a message that if you’re caught dealing in Ohio, especially if your sale was traced to a fatal overdose, that we’re going to hold you accountable for that overdose.”

Pepper talked about Narcan which is Naloxone. Naloxone is a drug used to counter the effects of opioid overdose.

“Where it is used broadly overdose deaths are immediately reduced,” Pepper said. “Part of our plan would be to work get that out as broadly as possible, particularly in the hands of first responders. Because in communities where first responders have this chemical, they are clearly able to stop overdose deaths.”

In addition to more state funding, Pepper said he believes, as Attorney General, he would like to hold some drug manufacturers responsible and force them to help finance the battle against heroin.

Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.