4,149 overdose deaths.
The number is staggering, heart-breaking. It is also Ohio’s reality — a reality that will be further shaped by 2018 state and federal races. Any candidate considering a run for office should enter the campaign season with a serious proposal for dealing with this epidemic.
Christina Arredondo, of Ross County, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine at a news conference in Columbus announcing the state's suits against drug manufacturers last week. Her daughter, Felicia, died of an overdose in 2015.
According to county coroner’s figures compiled by the Columbus Dispatch, there were more than 4,000 overdose fatalities in 2016, a spike of 36 percent from the previous year’s national-leading total. Sadly, the Dispatch’s total will not be the final death toll. A handful of smaller counties were not included in the count, and other counties — including Lucas County — have not finished counting.
The news is expected to be even worse in 2017. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, had an estimated 666 deaths last year just from heroin and fentanyl. The county is on pace for 775 in 2017. The Montgomery County morgue in Dayton has already had weekends this year when there was not enough space to store bodies.
In 2018, Ohioans will choose a governor, attorney general, members of the General Assembly, and U.S. representatives, and voters will decide if Sherrod Brown should get another six-year term in the Senate. Each of these campaigns will allow candidates to shape the debate on how to bring the state’s ghastly overdose numbers down.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is expected to jump into the gubernatorial race, potentially fired the first salvo on Wednesday when he announced that the state will sue five drug manufacturers that supply opioids to residents. The decision has political undertones to it, but it is a justifiable step to hold manufacturers accountable for the decimation that their drugs have wreaked across Ohio. Shaking settlements out of these multi-billion dollar companies will conceivably pay for treatment and law-enforcement efforts.
Moreover, this step is evidence that Mr. DeWine would be aggressive about the opioid crisis in the governor’s office, something that cannot be said about current Gov. John Kasich, who was recently in Florida, Texas, and New York City pushing his new book. The governor even made time to stop at The View and joke around with Whoopi Goldberg.
The truth is that there are few things to laugh about when it comes to the state that Mr. Kasich leads. He has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the opioid crisis, even when alarm bells began ringing several years ago. No matter where his political career takes Mr. Kasich, his absence in the face of the epidemic should forever stain his resume.
The scope of the devastation from heroin and opioids is coming into sharper focus, and the picture is even worse than expected. Those now in office have had few solutions. Those who want to govern in the future should be ready to tell us how to do better.
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