Lawmakers, community leaders want new state office to help solve opioid crisis

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

Community leaders are saying Ohio’s current efforts to solve the opioid crisis are not enough. State Representative Richard Brown says, more Ohioans under the age of 50 are dying from heroin and fentanyl overdoses than from car crashes, gun violence, and breast cancer combined.

“According to congressional studies, Ohio’s current efforts will not be enough to slow the historic number of opioid overdose deaths,” said Brown.

According to the CDC, 5,322 people a year or 14 people a day in Ohio are dying of an overdose; which is three times the national average.

Brown was joined by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, Whitehall Mayor Kim Maggard, and Groveport Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert at the Statehouse Thursday to announce a bill he plans to introduce after the election this fall.

“We cannot hide our heads in the sand any longer, as much as we want to; we can’t,” said Maggard. “We need someone that can help us; that can help us consolidate ideas, help us with resources; not only just in one place but throughout the state of Ohio.”

The bill will call for the creation of a cabinet-level position to oversee an Office or Drug Policy. The group says this is necessary because Governor Kasich’s “Opioid Action Team” is a temporary solution that lacks focus and they want a permanent position with a shift from what they see currently as a reactionary approach to a more proactive one.

Kasich’s team was created by executive order and can be undone or modified. Brown wants to see something put in place via legislative action which is different.

Kasich’s press secretary Jon Keeling released this statement in response:

“The state already has a cabinet-level agency whose mission is to fight drug abuse, so creating another isn’t going to solve the problem. Our comprehensive strategy has invested $1 billion each year into Ohio communities, led to record levels of drug interdiction by the state highway patrol, created an anti-drug program for schools and parents across Ohio, and rolled out new prescription drug rules which have resulted in a six-year low in the number of prescription opiate deaths. Make no mistake, while we’re proud of our progress, we know there is always more work to do, but it’s clear Ohio has become a national leader in the fight and we hope our efforts are strengthened in the next administration.”  

The group claims $2 billion in state cuts since 2011 has left communities without the resources they need to fight the opioid crisis. However, only a portion of that money would have gone to fighting the epidemic in the first place.

Whaley also says communication across the state could be better in terms of sharing what is and is not working in the fight.

“Legitimately, lives are at stake here and so having a cabinet-level position will help that and help coordinate that in a way that can be more effective with dollars and save lives,” said Whaley.

She is hoping that cabinet-level position can be more proactive in working to make those communication connections and coordinating with the various communities around the state that need help.

Brown says both gubernatorial candidates have been contacted and the prospect of making this happen seems to be amenable to both men.

Further discussions with both candidates will be held, according to Brown, before the election so that when it is over the bill can move swiftly through the lame duck session in the last two months of the year.

Further, Brown says he has discussed this bill with lawmakers across the aisle and has received positive indications they will support it.

He is optimistic the bill could pass before the end of the session.

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