In Ohio, A State Shaped By Opioid Addiction

By The Fix staff 07/10/17

"I think our general public understanding of this addiction crisis that exists in Ohio today is a lot different than it was five years ago, four years ago."

hand holding opioid pills
Ohio has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the nation.

On three separate occasions in 2016 the medical examiner in Summit County, Ohio had to order refrigerated trailers because the morgue had run out of space for all the bodies of opioid overdose victims. This is just one example of the ways that opioid addiction has gripped Ohio, giving the state one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the nation.

In 2016, opioid overdoses killed 4,149 Ohioans, according to the Columbus Dispatch. That is an average rate of 11 people a day, underscoring the need for opioid treatment in Ohio.

William Denihan, of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, Ohio said the opioid epidemic in the state is “so out of control. I call it a tsunami.”

Despite growing awareness of the epidemic, the overdose dates in 2017 are continuing to increase.

“We’ve done so much, but the numbers are going the other way,” Denihan said. “I don’t see the improvement.”

The extent of the epidemic promoted Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to announce that the state is suing five opioid manufacturers, accusing them of “overstating [opioids’] benefits and trivializing their potential addictive qualities.”

“We believe the evidence will show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans—our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids—addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” DeWine said.

In 2016, nearly one in five Ohio residents, a total of 2.3 million people, were prescribed opioids.

Soon after the announcement of the state’s lawsuit the cities of Dayton and Lorain announced additional lawsuits, saying that the state’s suit did not go far enough.

“The big drug companies have stuck profits in their wallets, and they have passed the bill on to us,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. “This crisis has gone on for far too long. We’ve gotten too little help from the state. Even the state’s lawsuit does not go far enough to hold responsible all the bad actors that created this epidemic.”

The epidemic has touched people of all socio-economic and social statuses in the state. Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor recently revealed that her two sons have battled opioid addiction for years. Now 26 and 23, the young men are stable, if not fully in recovery, Taylor said.

“When you’re in a crisis mode, every day is ‘just get by, get through.’ And we are not there today,” Taylor said. “We are not out of the woods, but we’re not in a crisis mode.”

Taylor emphasized that treatment has helped her sons survive.

“I know people who have lost their kids,” she said. “I’ve been to a funeral of somebody, a young person, who died of a heroin overdose. It’s not pretty. Until we found the treatment that worked for (our sons), the voice of worry was very loud and it was very scary. Very scary.”

Taylor said that while she initially hid her family’s struggles, she decided that it was time to share their story.

“It may have been the stigma. I think our general public understanding of this addiction crisis that exists in Ohio today is a lot different than it was five years ago, four years ago,” she said.

Taylor and her sons opted to open up in order to raise awareness and provide hope to others struggling with addiction.

“There can be a light at the end of the tunnel where you may today feel like you can’t see the light,” Taylor said.

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