Urgency, education needed to combat area drug epidemic

We have been reading about it every day in the pages of this newspaper.

A single grand jury report published in the Tribune Chronicle this month indicated 6 of 24 people – a fourth – were indicted by a Trumbull County grand jury on felony charges of possession of heroin. The same day, the Tribune published a story about a 41-year-old Hiram man who likely overdosed on heroin inside the restroom of a North Park Avenue grocery store.

In all these stories, these people were the lucky ones. They survived.

Trumbull County Coroner Humphrey Germaniuk spoke last week, however, about the ones that aren’t so lucky. Germaniuk noted the increasing number of heroin overdose deaths, saying he already has investigated more than 109 deaths this year. Typically, he said, he hits 100 around June. Much of that increase likely stems from the uptick in heroin usage.

Opiate addictions – particularly that of heroin – is epidemic, and answers must be found. The usual way of addressing criminal drug epidemics – by fighting it criminally – probably won’t work in this case. Most experts will tell you this is not a problem we can arrest our way out of.

Ellen Augspurger, of the Ohio Substance Use Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment project, or SBIRT, spoke last week at a summit meeting on the topic held in Howland. She had this to say about the growing problem:

“Addiction can be approached as a moral, criminal or public health problem, but we’ve seen that treating it as a criminal or moral issue doesn’t solve it.”

She’s right that we must find new ways of reacting.

April Caraway, executive director of Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, also will tell you more detoxification beds are needed to help residents kick this deadly habit.

Among the debate on this topic is whether public money should be spent on naloxone, a drug overdose antidote. A bill being considered in an Ohio Senate committee would expand use of the drug in the hope of reducing the state’s record-high number of fatal heroin and painkillers overdoses.

Senate Health and Human Services committee chairwoman, Sen. Shannon Jones, believes delaying the vote allows for more review. She says it’s technical legislation, and lawmakers need to get it right. This is after the House unanimously passed the measure to allow distribution of naloxone to individuals authorized by a doctor, including an addict or a relative or friend. It also would allow pharmacies to distribute the drug without a prescription.

Of course, everyone wants to get new legislation right the first time, but with this growing epidemic and increasing number of deaths, we believe more urgency is needed.

No one has the answer to this problem, and we won’t pretend to. However, we agree with experts that will tell you that, like many abused drugs, education and prevention must begin at an earlier age and before substance users develop into substance abusers.

Education in elementary schools must focus on the problem and the harsh realities of heroin addiction.

Requests to the governor’s office for help resulted in a promise. But since then there has been little movement on identifying with the Trumbull-Ashtabula Group Law Enforcement Task Force and the county’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services what can be done to help.

Speedy decisions are needed in finding ways to work together to combat the problem.