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Ohio’s opioid crisis is spiralling out of control.

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Ohio’s opioid crisis is spiralling out of control.

In the last six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s latest report showed that 5,232 Ohioans died from overdoses. That’s a 39 percent increase over the previous year.

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The exponential jump in overdose deaths is happening around the country, but Ohio’s rate is about three times higher than the national average of 14.4 percent.

Let that sink in: The rate at which our sons and daughters and friends and neighbors are dying is rising at three times the national rate. Only two states, Pennsylvania and Florida, faired worse in the latest report.

Sadly, anyone on the front lines of the opioid battle, from law enforcement to social workers to doctors and nurses, will tell you that the latest figures are not a surprise. They are watching the death toll climb each week. And to them, the victims are real people, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.

If the rate of traffic-crash fatalities, or deaths from heart disease or accidental poisoning jumped by nearly 40 percent a year, Ohio would see an urgent and possibly near-panicked reaction from its elected leaders.

As it is, what leadership there is to be had on the issue in Ohio is coming from local authorities who have struggled to come up with strategies that work in their communities, such as Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp’s Drug Abuse Response Team.

But experts say Ohio needs a coordinated strategy that addresses the crisis at every angle. Ohio needs more treatment and detox beds. It needs more prevention programs. It needs more and better intervention initiatives. It needs more recovery support. And Ohio needs someone in Columbus directing these efforts for all the communities, big and small, but especially small, now left to their own devices to manage under the crushing burden of the epidemic.

Ohio’s governor shows scant interest in addressing the crisis that is killing thousands of his state’s residents each year. His inaction is nothing less than governmental malpractice.

But Ohio is going to elect a new governor later this year. As the field of candidates narrows to a few contenders, those candidates must put the opioid crisis at the top of their list of issues, and they must put forward a plan.

Any candidate who is serious about becoming governor had better have a serious and strategic progam he can implement to address the problem systemically and immediately.

At this rate, by the time the new governor takes office, opioid overdoses will have claimed another 5,000 or 6,000 Ohioans.

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