But the community is also responding. As members of this Scioto County anti-drug coalition spoke, I saw not hopelessness or resignation, but instead determination, commitment, and, yes, a lot of emotion. Everyone around the table was determined to protect our citizens from the devastating impact of prescription drug “pill mills” and drug pushers. The goal of these predators – who often come from out of state – is to increase addiction in Ohio so they can sell more drugs, usually opiates, like OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Methodone. This can also lead to more abuse of heroin and other drugs, based on a recent study by the Ohio Department of Drug and Alcohol Addictions Services.
Everyone around the table was committed to keep people from falling into addiction through more effective prevention and education about the obvious dangers of drug abuse. The sad aftermath of this poisoning of Southern Ohio includes record levels of Hepatitis C infection from needle sharing, overwhelming demand for limited treatment resources, and a low treatment success rate for those who become addicted. The emotion I saw in Portsmouth that day comes from the heart, because almost everyone around the table either has someone in their family who is affected or knows someone who is.
Local leaders are engaged and state government officials, including Governor John Kasich, Scioto County State Representative Terry Johnson and others, are tackling the problem at the state level. On the federal side, I am focused on helping in three areas: supporting the local anti-drug coalition efforts with prevention, education and treatment; assisting local law enforcement through a targeted federal program in high drug use areas, and promoting federal efforts to stop the over-subscribing of prescription drugs.
On the prevention education front, I am supporting the anti-drug coalition’s recent application for matching funds under the Drug Free Communities Act of 1997, a bill that I authored when I represented our area in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Through the Drug Free Communities Act, hundreds of communities have been able to leverage federal dollars in the war on drugs. In Cincinnati, for example, the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati, which I founded back in 1996 and chaired for its first nine years, partners with 23 neighborhood coalitions to focus on prevention and education, including educating young people and their parents about the dangers of substance abuse. We have seen drug use among young people decrease by about 30% since the Greater Cincinnati Coalition was formed.
Education and prevention are the ultimate solutions, but right now we have to deal with the devastating effects of addiction on the Southern Ohio region. In particular, law enforcement needs better tools to effectively wage this war. That’s why I have been working alongside state and local officials to bring the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation to Scioto County and the region. Through a HIDTA designation, local law enforcement will get more help and coordination from federal law enforcement, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, to fight this growing problem.
To get a better handle on the over-prescribing that is fueling so much of the drug abuse, Ohio is cracking down on pill mills, including through H.B. 93 and S.B. 103, legislation co-sponsored by Representatives Terry Johnson and David Burke. But so much of the problem in the Scioto County comes from outside of the state. We need an interstate federal database to let doctors and pharmacists know what a patient has already been prescribed. I am working with Representative Jean Schmidt, Senator Sherrod Brown, and others on how best to develop this needed federal tool.
The day I met with the anti-drug coalition in Portsmouth, I was looking forward to receiving input from Adams County Sheriff Kim Rogers, who has been a leader on this issue. Unfortunately, the sheriff called earlier that morning to let me know he would be unable to attend. Why?
Early that morning there had been a quadruple homicide in Adams County. As the local paper later reported, “A prescription drug addiction may have been a factor in the shooting of a Tiffin Township family and the eventual shooting of the suspect by Columbus police Saturday morning.”
For the people of Southern Ohio, and in other communities across our state where prescription drug abuse has become a cancer on society, the issue is very real. It’s a daily threat to the health and security of our families and neighborhoods. It’s time for all of us to dedicate ourselves to addressing this crisis.
Contact SEN. ROB PORTMAN at (202) 224-3353 in Washington, D.C., or (513) 684-3265 in Ohio.