PDT Staff Writer
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says he wants to use the success Scioto County has had in dealing with the drug epidemic as a springboard for his statewide program. Portsmouth was DeWine’s first stop in what will be his planned Attorney General’s Drug Abuse Community Forum series, and he spoke exclusively with the Daily Times about what he hoped to take away from that forum held Wednesday at The Counseling Center on Court Street.
“I think Scioto County is really a model of a community that was devastated, and continues to be hit hard by drugs,” DeWine said. “But it is fighting back. And what we heard today is the comment - ‘we all came together. We worked together. We broke down this old way of looking at things.’ One department would deal with one problem and another department would deal with another problem, and no one talked to each other. We broke that down.”
Several people spoke at the event including State Representative Terry Johnson (R-McDermott), Ed Hughes, CEO of Compass Community Health, Lisa Roberts RN of the Portsmouth Health Department, and anti-prescription drug activist, Jo Anna Krohn, founder of SOLACE (Surviving Our Losses And Continuing Everyday), Portsmouth Police Chief Robert Ware, Scioto County Sheriff Marty V. Donini and Deputy Scioto County Coroner Dr. Wayne Wheeler, who drew a large applause when he said - “I make a point when I first see a patient, at the very first encounter I say - ’you are worth something. You are not trash. You are not garbage. You are a human being and are deserving of self respect, and deserving of community respect, and our problem is to try to help you earn that back in your own heart.’”
Wheeler said the first job of the community is to change the attitude toward drug addiction. He said - “Then you can start working on the problem.”
DeWine talked with guarded optimism about the successes of the last several years including the shutting down of pain clinics in Scioto County, telling those in attendance - “We have taken the licenses of 38 doctors. That’s a lot. They were just pill pushers.”
But he also called attention to the changeover that has occurred since a lot of the opiate availability has gone away.
“Today we have heroin in every county,” DeWine said. “And we have communities in this state that will not admit they have a drug problem.”
Johnson told the audience the root of the problem has to be addressed holistically, telling them it takes the whole community working together.
“People ask me, how did you come together?” Johnson said. “I tell them we did, but we’re not done.”
Johnson said the drug epidemic crosses every economic strata.
“We’ve got a lot more to do, but we’ve come a long way,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the efforts of the people here in southern Ohio.”
In another exclusive interview, Hughes told the Daily Times - “We were contacted by the Attorney General’s office, stating that Mike DeWine was going to be going around the state and going to local communities trying to get input from these local communities in terms of the role their office could play in our prevention and intervention services, and how to try and address especially this transition we’re seeing between prescription drugs and heroin, so this is the first of those events that the Attorney General has set up, and we were really happy to host it.”
Hughes said DeWine is not new to the drug epidemic.
“He (DeWine) has a long history of interest in treatments and prevention services around drug and alcohol abuse,” Hughes told the Daily Times. “And I think he’s trying to get some input from the local community with the idea that somewhere this is going to lead to him trying to look at what kind of a contribution his office makes in helping us locally to try and address these problems.”
According to the Ohio Department of Health, drug overdose deaths increased 440 percent in Ohio from 1999 to 2011, with Scioto County having the highest drug overdose rate per capita from 2007 to 2011. More recent statistics from the Scioto County Coroner’s Office show a 30 percent decrease in direct drug deaths from 2011 to 2012, and a 32 percent decrease in indirect drug deaths during the same time period. DeWine credited the grassroots efforts of the health, law enforcement, court, and community segments all coming together to bring about success.
“I think other communities need to do the same thing,” DeWine said. “Because this is not a Scioto County problem. This is a problem that is across the state of Ohio. Every county has it. Every county has these issues.”
DeWine will return to southern Ohio Thursday hosting several events. First, DeWine will tour McGinnis, Inc. at 740 County Road 1 in South Point, including a barge being restored by the company. That visit will begin at 9 a.m. Second, at 11:30 a.m., DeWine will tour Serenity House, a domestic violence shelter at 11 Hickory Lane in Gallipolis. Serenity House received a Victims of Crime grant from the Attorney General’s Office. Lastly, DeWine will host a roundtable for area law enforcement at the Wild Horse Cafe, 251 West Main Street in Pomeroy, in Meigs County at 1:30 p.m.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.