I am writing to share information regarding our local opiate situation, and what you can do to help.
First, I urge you to take a moment to understand how we got to this point.
Back in 2010-2011, Ohio changed the rules to bring strict compliance standards to pill mills in our state. This shut down many illegal pill mills in our state, mostly located in the south. During this same time, heroin was making its way into Ohio by the Mexican drug cartels because they wanted to avoid locations with larger gang populations in other states. When the pill mills closed, those that were customers seeking opioids to treat their pain began looking for other ways to self-medicate. By then, the prices of prescription pain killers went up. In essence, this forced those who truly needed pain medications to begin looking for other ways to control their pain. They soon found that heroin was an opioid that was far cheaper and easier to buy than getting a prescription. This began to drive the heroin epidemic in our state. Portsmouth, Ohio was one of the hardest hit cities because it was close to the pill mills. They began seeing a sharp increase in overdoses, some resulting in death.
By 2012-2013, heroin had consumed the illicit drug market throughout much of Ohio. The cartels had planted their products in two major cities in central Ohio- Columbus and Dayton. The cartels then controlled the drug market from that point on, driving the accessibility of heroin and the price. As the price got lower, the more addicts began to use it. It no longer made sense for a person that was addicted to Oxycontin or Percocet to purchase a pill on the street for $10 or $20 when they could now purchase a “better high” by purchasing heroin for less than $5.00/dose. Heroin can be smoked, injected, or snorted.
By late 2014 to the present, the number of overdose deaths in our state has skyrocketed. It is estimated that by the time all statistics are known, Ohio will have seen 4,000 overdose deaths last year alone. Our Nation saw more than 33,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2015. So, why the sharp rise in deaths? What force made this happen in the drug world? The answer is fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl made its way into the heroin mixture during 2015, and is here to stay for now. Most of the fentanyl that is mixed in heroin is from China. Fentanyl was being purchased in bulk by the Mexicans and distributed as a mixture with their heroin. Since the heroin was now being mixed with something else, this made a kilo of heroin go farther. It is now not uncommon for an addict to actually be consuming more fentanyl than actual heroin when they purchase “heroin”. As some of you probably know, fentanyl can easily be changed in a lab to make it even more deadly. One of the deadliest drugs on the market to mix with heroin is called Carfentanil, which is a drug used by veterinarians to treat elephants. It is said that Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl.
To combat overdose deaths, a nasal spray called naloxone (Narcan) is being used more widespread throughout the country. This product can be administered by anyone to save an opioid death from occurring if the timing is right. Unfortunately, some addicts use alone and then die because no one was there to administer lifesaving medication or skills. When fentanyl was added to heroin, it made it extremely difficult to save someone’s life with just one dose of Naloxone. In some documented cases, it has taken as many as 16 doses of this to save a life. This shows you how powerful and destructive fentanyl can be. Just as deadly that it is for the addict to use, it too is powerful enough to cause safety services personnel to be more careful in handling any illegal drug because it can cause them to be contaminated as well.
Ohio now has a Good Samaritan Law that allows anyone to report an overdose in progress and they cannot be charged as long as they seek an assessment and treatment from a proper care provider. This step by our State legislature is a good step forward in life saving.
Locally, there is a lot of work being done to assist our community in being proactive instead of reactive. The group that you have heard a lot about, CORE (Coalition for Opiate Relief Efforts) continues to be creative and working together with a cross-section of our community to bring real solutions for addicts, their families, and those not yet aware they are already involved. This group has been able to keep a focus on this topic. This includes training more individuals, ongoing education on the latest, newest information of those who’s roles deal with this problem daily, and forward thinking of ideas to bridge the gap with treatment. Medication assisted treatment is becoming a very positive step for our community in being able to have local physicians administer Vivitrol treatments. Vivitrol helps to reduce the body’s cravings for addictive substances. They have seen many successes with this help.
Additionally, the Logan County Joint Drug Task Force continues to fight each and every day to cut off the supply to our community. They are extremely diligent in knowing the drug culture and infiltrating those who are spreading the poison. This team faces new and unpredictable changes nearly every day. Dirty drug climate equals dirty risks.
We have a very successful DARE program in our city schools and Calvary Christian. This program has changed to be more proactive in educating our youngest citizens in positive life choices. Youth education is one major step we have been doing to fight illicit drug use in our community.
Education, prevention, treatment and enforcement are the four things that will help slow this epidemic. Without each individual citizen knowing the dangers of drug use and making positive decisions to avoid ever starting, this problem will increase. Without preventative measures by each family to lock up prescription medications, or to throw them away in one of the two drop boxes in Logan County, the problem will continue. Without facilities for addicts to go to voluntarily to get help, we will lose this fight. Without the criminal justice system effectively dealing with traffickers differently than addicts, we will lose this fight. Why should anyone get a second, third, or fourth chance to sell poison to our community and not be locked up for a long time? The problem here is that the prison system is now overcrowded with heroin addicts who have committed serious crimes. With laws changing to combat prison overcrowding, it has increased other problems.
In closing, please know that every day in our community there are citizens suffering from addiction. Science clearly has defined opioid addiction as a disease. The Centers for Disease Control, FDA, Surgeon General, and the National Institutes of Health all agree. It is estimated that nearly 7 million people living in the United States are in current need of treatment for substance use and addiction. When the chemical makeup of the human brain begins to shift as a person uses a substance like heroin, they become a prisoner of their own mind and unable to free themselves of the addiction. This is why heroin does not discriminate by race, age, income, or any other category. It is not uncommon to hear from some addicts that they started using pain pills to battle an injury. Then, as insurance plans change or they have no way to cover the costs of prescriptions, they seek other ways to medicate and use heroin. By this point, many have already had brain changes that requires opiate relief. It is truly a public health crisis.
We need your help! You can help by being proactive in your own residence. Each person who is of decision-making age should be taught the dangers of using addictive substances even when prescribed by a physician. Each person needs to understand that our bodies are all different. One person may be able to use painkillers for three days for a surgery recovery, and not be addicted. Another person may have the same surgery and be prescribed the same medicine, but be addicted on the fourth day.
We are in this together and must act now. Each day that passes, there is too much at stake to continue to not take action. Let’s do everything in our power to make 2017 our comeback year. Let’s lead the fight to make our community known for being drug free and then feel the positive results of having healthier friends, family and neighbors.