Cities throughout Ohio — including Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus – have experienced spikes in suspected overdose deaths recently with law enforcement officials placing the blame on illicit fentanyl.
With that in the background, two big-name Ohio officials have announced separate measures they believe can help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic on two widely different fronts.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D – OH) is pushing for congressional action on his proposed Fentanyl Sanctions Act.
Advertised as bipartisan legislation, the act is intended to give U.S. officials new sanction tools to target opioid traffickers in China, Mexico and other countries, as well as better enable American diplomats and law enforcement officials to maintain pressure on the Chinese government to implement and strictly enforce its own commitment to treat all forms of illicit fentanyl as illegal.
At the same time, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine recently announced the state will invest $11 million over the next two years to help employers and unemployed workers across the state overcome issues related to the opioid epidemic.
The resources will come from a grant of the U.S. Department of Labor and meant to help support employers who hire individuals in recovery as well as provide job training and other services to help unemployed workers recover from substance abuse disorders and find employment.
“This federal grant is an example of what RecoveryOhio is all about. We collaborate to address the unique needs of residents,” said DeWine. “Recovery involves not just treatment, but ongoing supports to help individuals lead healthy, productive lives.”
“On average, 14 Ohioans will die every day due to an opioid overdose,” Brown noted, while touting his sanctions initiative. “The addiction crisis has taken too many lives and caused too much devastation in Ohio. This new bill will add effective new sanctions tools to help combat the flood of illicit fentanyl coming in primarily from China and from Mexico and help provide intelligence and funding to keep these dangerous drugs out of Ohio communities.”
Brown stated that on Monday he pressed members of Congress to act on the Fentanyl Sanctions Act during a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Hearing on Combating Threats from China.
His office claimed senators on both sides of the aisle agreed more action is needed to combat illicit synthetic opioids coming to the U.S.
During a media conference call held Wednesday afternoon, Brown was joined by Commissioner Denise Driehaus, Chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. Hamilton County has been hit particularly hard by overdose deaths in recent weeks; last week the county had 11 overdose deaths and seven more the week prior.
“We are seeing an alarming increase in overdose deaths in the African American community in Hamilton County. According to the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task-force, four of six deaths the weekend of May 24th were African American, and six of 11 people referred to the Quick Response Team last week were African American. This is a significant increase and prompted a press release to alert the community to this troubling trend,” said Driehaus.
During the media phone conference, Driehaus noted dealers have begun mixing fentanyl in with methamphetamine and crack cocaine instead of just heroin as has been the norm in the past. She again noted this development prompted a public warning issued by her office.
Brown’s office contends the Fentanyl Sanctions Act would help crack down on illegal fentanyl coming to Ohio by:
• Requiring imposition of sanctions on foreign drug traffickers, drug manufacturers in China who knowingly provide illicit synthetic opioids to traffickers, individuals or firms operating alone or as part of transnational criminal organizations like those in Mexico who mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the U.S., and foreign financial institutions and others who knowingly assist such trafficking
• Authorizing new funding to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Defense and State, to combat the foreign trafficking of opioids;
• Urging the President to commence diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions and to deploy other multilateral measures against foreign opioid traffickers
• Establishing a National Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how to more effectively combat the flow of illicit synthetic opioids from China, Mexico and elsewhere
The legislation was introduced by Brown, along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tom Cotton (R-AR,) Marco Rubio (R-FL,) Robert Menendez (D-NJ,) Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH.)
DeWine said the new grant would be distributed among Ohio’s 20 local workforce development areas. Services will be tailored to local needs but may include any of the following:
• The testing of innovative approaches to combat addiction issues – for example, by supporting employers who develop second-chance policies and hire individuals in recovery.
• Job training, career services, and supportive services for unemployed workers who have been directly or indirectly affected by the opioid crisis.
• Temporary employment to alleviate workforce issues related to the opioid crisis – for example, to hire 911 operators, first responders, peer recovery supporters, or children services aides for up to 12 months or 2,040 hours.
• Building the addiction treatment, mental health and pain management workforce.
DeWine’s office bragged RecoveryOhio has many partners in this effort, including OhioMeansJobs centers; Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services boards; two-year colleges; community action agencies; libraries; mental health treatment providers; the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation; the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation, and the departments of Job and Family Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Higher Education, Medicaid, Public Safety and Health.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.