Drug crisis has reached emergency status

People we know are dying — 39 of them so far this year in Trumbull County.

If the deaths were due to any reason other than illegal drug addiction, I suspect Americans would be reacting much differently than they have to deaths brought on by this opioid crisis.

We treat with care the lifelong cigarette smokers who contract lung cancer and heavy drinkers afflicted with cirrohsis. Aren’t these ailments also brought on by serious addiction?

But this scourge is about opioids.

April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said if it weren’t for naloxone, a drug administered to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, 189 more people would have died in March. And now Caraway says she is seeing a link to an uptick in suicide. Trumbull County Coroner Humphrey Germaniuk handled four suicides in five days last week.

The crisis finally garnered an official reaction from the Trumbull County commissioners, who on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, but even they admit the move will not mean much.

The governor has committed $20 million to combat addiction in Ohio, but most of that will go to research, leaving agencies in Trumbull County without access to the funds to fight at the grass roots level.

Trumbull Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa is calling for Gov. John Kasich to dip into the state’s $2 billion “rainy day” fund, and Commissioner Dan Polivka called for federal help.

While this all sounds good, detailed plans of action with specific fiscal needs, estimates and projections of how these efforts would help may drive a better response from Kasich and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on the state level or other officials on the federal level.

Here are a few key statistics that paint a picture of just how bad it is.

In 2015, there were more than 52,000 drug overdose in the nation. For comparison, 38,000 people died due to automobile crashes that year. More than 33,000 of those fatal overdoses came from opioid use.

Since 2007, fatal drug overdoses have been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, and fatal drug overdoses now exceed motor vehicle crashes as leading cause of accidental deaths in Ohio.

While stronger law enforcement efforts are needed, that, too, requires funding.

In Trumbull County, the sheriff’s office is revamping a countywide task force to figure out a way to prevent the drugs from entering the county.

Last month U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, and Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida, introduced the “Stop Trafficking in Fentanyl Act” amending the Controlled Substances Act so the law appropriately reflects potency of the opioid fentanyl.

Addiction costs the United States $700 billion annually, and Fentanyl, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin, is thought to be responsible for the massive spike in opioid overdose deaths. The DEA even has issued a public warning to police warning about accidental exposure to fentanyl, a substance which can be lethal at volumes the size of a grain of salt.

The bill would reduce the amount of fentanyl needed to invoke the most serious trafficking penalties for an individual trafficking and manufacturing the drug. It would lower the threshold that triggers federal penalties from 400 grams to 20 grams to ensure that the law appropriately reflects the extreme strength of the drug, which can be fatal in doses as small as 0.25 mg. The bill has been referred to the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Heath.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown also has introduced legislation intended to bolster U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s work to crack down on trafficking of fentanyl. The bill would provide CBP with additional high-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S.

Caraway’s blunt assessment puts heroin usage in context.

“Using heroin has become a death sentence.”