Articles and editorials are listed in order of publication.
Opiate epidemic exacts deadly toll across Ohio (2/16/2014)
Opiate addiction can start with a single white pill that sends the user into euphoria, but soon replaces fleeting bliss with a solitary, unquenchable thirst.
Needing more and more of the drug just to feel normal, users can move within months from prescription painkillers such as Vicodin to heroin, feeding their addictions more cheaply, more easily — and more lethally.
An opiate epidemic is killing 22 Ohioans a week. In northwest Ohio, the number of heroin-related deaths more than doubled last year, to 80 from 31 in 2012.
EDITORIAL: Killing pain (2/16/2014)
Last year, Governor Kasich’s Opiate Action Team released guidelines for prescribers. New state statistics suggest physicians are reducing high-dosage prescriptions — those of at least 80 morphine equivalent doses, an amount that equals 16 small Vicodin pills daily.
Still, heroin-related deaths are spiking in Lucas County and Ohio. Expanding treatment options and raising awareness of the dangers of opioid addiction — including retraining the physicians who prescribe them — must become even higher priorities for Ohio this year.
At 39, Lori Bryant is tired of the hell of heroin, and she doesn’t want to die.
For the last 10 years, a relentless hunger for the drug has driven the Toledo woman’s life and, at least three times, almost ended it. Every day, Ms. Bryant has shot as much as a half-gram of heroin — worth about $85 on the street.
A shot of heroin can also bring death. Ms. Bryant knows five or six people who have overdosed in the last year. She doesn’t want to be next.
EDITORIAL: Treatment deficit (3/09/2014)
Drug treatment is a wise investment not only in reducing long-term health-care costs and improving people’s productivity, but also in lowering the enormous costs of crime and violence associated with drug abuse. Treating the disease of addiction is the right thing to do — a moral imperative that any decent community, or state, should meet.
This meeting of Heroin Anonymous, a fast-growing group in Toledo that formed this year, provides a snapshot of the city’s and state’s opioid and heroin epidemic. Of the more than 70 people here, 90 percent are white, and most appear to be in their 20s.
Many started with prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Some are fresh out of rehab or still under court orders.
Based on federal estimates, at least 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids such as heroin, including more than 10,000 in the Toledo area.
EDITORIAL: The politics of addiction (4/13/2014)
Ohio's opioid and heroin epidemic, almost miraculously, has turned members of the General Assembly into responsible adults. Lawmakers are working together to address a crisis that kills three Ohioans a day and grips an estimated 200,000 in addiction’s misery.
Thirteen bills — mostly before the state House — propose ways to treat addicts, educate Ohioans about prescription drug and opioid abuse, regulate how painkillers are dispensed and monitored, and prevent the diversion of these drugs onto the street.
Overall, these bills represent a good first step. But Ohio needs to do much more to end an opioid epidemic that kills hundreds of people every year, has addicted more than 200,000 Ohioans, and exacts billions of dollars in collateral costs to the entire state.
EDITORIAL: Exploding epidemic (4/27/2014)
Newly released figures from the Ohio Department of Health show a spike in fatal heroin overdoses. That should push policymakers and politicians to expand the state’s inadequate treatment network, which now serves only about one in 10 of those who need help.
Heroin overdose deaths in Ohio rose nearly 60 percent in 2012, while the number of deaths from prescription pills dropped for the first time in more than a decade. Ohio’s 680 heroin-related deaths in 2012, reported last week, represent the latest official count.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Blade’s editorial page that he estimates, from a separate tally his office compiles, that at least 1,000 such deaths occurred in 2013.
EDITORIAL: Enough (5/11/14)
In approving Zohydro last October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shirked its broader responsibility to the public. It aggravated the risks of addiction in the midst of a nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic. And it sent the wrong message to doctors and other prescribers, many of whom don’t fully understand how addiction works or the potential for abuse in the painkillers they prescribe.
Losing the war on drugs (6/8/14)
James, a small-time local drug dealer, is the last stop for heroin moving from Mexico to Toledo, before it’s injected or snorted into an addict’s arm or nose. It’s his job to sell heroin.
Sergeant Kurt Beidelschies of the Ohio Highway Patrol heads a regional narcotics unit. It’s his job to seize the drug before it gets here — or anywhere else a courier, or mule, moving through northwest Ohio is taking it.
The two never met, but they’re locked in a vast subterranean war. Despite dedicated work by state and local law enforcement and numerous seizures, James is winning.
EDITORIAL: Another war (6/8/14)
The battle against addiction and drug trafficking needs new policies and programs that reduce demand with effective treatment and education programs. Law enforcement must join these efforts. A new initiative led by Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, using addiction resource deputies, shows one way to do it.
For too long, partisan politics has stymied the debate on drugs. Labels such as “liberal” and “conservative” are irrelevant and distracting.
What matters in crafting effective policies and programs is what works. If nothing else, more than four decades of battling drug trafficking and addiction demonstrate what doesn’t work.
State and local police continue to make record drug seizures, but fatal overdoses continue to soar. Reducing the demand for drugs is the only real way out, and that requires a new way of doing business, even for law enforcement.
Heroin-related deaths in the Toledo area more than doubled last year — to 80 from 31 in 2012. And the toll continues to rise. The region reported roughly 60 heroin-related overdoses during the first five or six months of this year; it’s on pace to reach 130 or 140 for the year, Dr. Robert Forney, Lucas County’s chief toxicologist, told me last week.
Heroin has become a cheap way to satisfy opiate addictions that usually start with prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin.
EDITORIAL: Campaign addiction (7/13/14)
Heroin and opioid addiction is a statewide epidemic, a medical crisis, and a public-health emergency. It’s also a top-tier campaign issue in this year’s races for Ohio governor and attorney general.
That’s entirely appropriate, despite suggestions from Republicans and the administration of Gov. John Kasich that the issue should remain above politics.
Fatal heroin-related overdoses in Ohio have tripled in the past three years, to more than 1,000 a year. An estimated 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids.
Sweeping though Ohio’s small towns, countryside, and suburbs, Ohio’s opioid epidemic has galvanized politicians and policy makers. This spring, Gov. John Kasich signed four of the 13 opioid bills introduced in the state House, mostly by Republicans who represent suburban and rural districts.
Fatal heroin-related overdoses in Ohio have tripled over the past three years and continue to rise. Elected officials who generally ignore the urban poor have been unable to neglect a public-health crisis in their own backyard. An estimated 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids.
EDITORIAL: Prison high (7/20/14)
Ohio’s heroin and opioid epidemic is inflating the state’s prison population. It will continue to make Ohio’s 28 prisons even more crowded unless the state expands community-based options to incarceration, and creates in-prison programs that focus on opioid and heroin addiction. Nearly 10,000 prisoners leave Ohio prisons each year with severe histories of addiction.
The alternative — building more prisons to house nonviolent offenders — is impractical, ineffective, and inhumane. It’s a costly road to nowhere that Gary Mohr, the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, rightly rejects.
Criminalizing addiction (9/7/14)
Facing a statewide heroin and opioid epidemic, Ohio’s courts continue to lock up hundreds of nonviolent, drug-addicted offenders each year that could more effectively be treated in the community — for a lot less money.
It happens because many judges don’t have sufficient treatment resources in their counties. It also happens because some judges, especially in rural counties, don’t understand addiction. Whether addicts and minor drug offenders go to prison depends a lot on where they live.
EDITORIAL: Addicted to prisons (9/7/14)
Stark differences in judges, as well as access to local treatment programs, have created appalling disparities in how justice is handed out to addicts and nonviolent drug offenders in Ohio.
Two cases involving heroin addicts, portrayed today in a front-page column by The Blade’s deputy editorial page editor, Jeff Gerritt, show what Ohio is doing right and what it continues to do wrong.
EDITORIAL: A Mother’s Message (9/28/2014)
Readers of Blade obituaries might notice a disturbing number of young names and faces on pages that should be reserved for those who have lived long, fruitful, and satisfying lives.
Often these obituaries note that the deceased “died suddenly” or “at home.” They may offer no reason for the passing of someone whose life has been cruelly cut short. These young people are our neighbors, friends, and relatives.
Mother’s memories call us to act on heroin (10/26/2014)
On Sunday, Oct. 5, Cheryl Lykowski sang happy birthday to her son, Christopher Joseph Pio, during a graveside memorial service at Toledo Memorial Park, where her son’s ashes were buried four days earlier. On that gray afternoon, Mr. Pio would have been 29.
Parents should not have to bury their children. When they do, something horrible has happened. Here and around the state, that something is often heroin.
EDITORIAL: Answering an epidemic (10/26/2014)
Heroin and other opioid abuse kills more than 1,000 people a year in Ohio, and fatal overdoses are on pace nearly to double this year. An estimated 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers. The epidemic has thrown families into turmoil and financial calamity, clogged the courts, and sent thousands of addicts to prison for drug-related crimes.
Fatal overdoses will continue to rise unless more addicts get effective treatment. Government has a duty to ensure that, just as it does in fighting the Ebola virus.
EDITORIAL: Waiting to recover (11/8/2014)
Facing an epidemic of heroin and opioid addiction, Ohio must add hundreds of new inpatient, residential treatment, and recovery housing beds. Waiting lists for short-term, medically supervised detoxification, and for housing where addicts can stay six to nine months or longer, are placing thousands of addicts at risk of relapse or even death.
EDITORIAL: Arresting an epidemic (11/10/2014)
Enforcing the law is part of the fight against addiction and drugs, and prosecutors have plenty of appropriate statutes to deal with the sale of illegal narcotics. Except in extraordinary circumstances, manslaughter and other homicide-related charges should not be among them. A new charging policy by the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office that treats fatal overdoses as homicide cases takes this progressive county backward. It could, in effect, criminalize addiction and burden an already crowded and costly state prison system.
EDITORIAL: Medicaid Matters (11/23/14)
Expanding Medicaid over the opposition of other Republicans marks Gov. John Kasich’s greatest first-term achievement. His top priority now must be to ensure that the health-care expansion for low-income Ohioans continues, even if he has to threaten, cajole, or beg members of the General Assembly.
EDITORIAL: An agenda for addiction (12/14/14)
Nearly two decades in the making, Ohio’s heroin and opioid epidemic became the state’s top public health problem in 2014, prompting sweeping policy and cultural changes that should reduce addiction rates over the next decade.
The administration of Gov. John Kasich has done a pretty good job of raising awareness about the state’s heroin and opioid epidemic, educating young people about addiction, and lowering the amount of dangerously high dosages of painkillers prescribed by physicians. Overprescribing opioids such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, starting in the late 1990s, got us into this mess. But the administration has failed to close the state’s enormous treatment gaps, especially in delivering effective medication-assisted treatment. Newer drugs such as Suboxone and Vivitrol that ease the agony of withdrawal and its attendant cravings are widely unavailable.
EDITORIAL: Killing Pain (2/15/2016)
With more than 200 opioid-related fatal overdoses last year in the Toledo area alone, Ohio’s heroin and opioid epidemic is finally getting the public attention it deserves. But even as the state continues to battle addiction and reduce overdose deaths, Ohioans need to remember how this insidious epidemic started. That’s the best way to keep more people from becoming addicted.
GUEST COLUMN: Who is responsible for Ohio’s opioid epidemic? (2/25/16)
Abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin is killing too many people we care about. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 people die each day in the United States from prescription painkiller overdoses.
In Ohio, the “opiate epidemic is a crisis of unparalleled proportions with devastating, often deadly, consequences,” says the state’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services. Who is to blame?
EDITORIAL: Deterring death (3/7/2016)
Products of Ohio’s political process rarely meet the truth-in-labeling test. The so-called Good Samaritan bill does.
The bill would save lives by shielding from arrest and prosecution minor drug users who, by calling 911 or contacting a police officer, seek help for companions who overdosed. Kentucky has passed a similar measure. It’s time to get it done in Ohio, even if it takes a few compromises to move the bill to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.
EDITORIAL: Local drug court to open (3/8/2016)
Lucas County’s long-awaited felony drug court will get certified by the Ohio Supreme Court this week, enabling the specialized docket to start operating immediately. Preliminary approval from the Supreme Court caps more than a year of planning — a process that Lucas County Common Pleas Court judges sometimes marred with petty bickering and a shameful lack of urgency.
In truth, the new drug court should have been operating six months ago, or even earlier. Still, in the end, judges came together and got the job done, submitting their plan for an adult felony drug court to the high court last summer. To receive initial certification, Lucas County had to submit a detailed program description, as well as a participants’ manual and agreements with community partners.
EDITORIAL: Help line needs help (3/15/2016)
A new addiction hot line, run through United Way of Greater Toledo’s 211 service, appears to have serious problems. Community leaders must fix them before a marketing campaign for the hot line launches next month.
Equally important, local treatment providers and mental health and recovery boards need to discuss broadening the hotline's mission. It should include providing more detailed and current information about treatment and recovery services.
Test calls to the hotline, although anecdotal, revealed operators who didn't understand addiction, appeared to read off cue cards, mispronounced the names of anti-heroin drugs, and didn't know the hours of operation for local treatment providers and other basic information.