Proactive leadership is needed to fight epidemic

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Today, Ohio is ground zero in a crisis that is ravaging families and communities across the nation.

In 2016, the Buckeye State led the nation with more than 4,000 opioid related overdose deaths, resulting in and which constituted a staggering 36 percent increase from Ohio’s 2015 opioid fatalities.

{mosads}And to put the magnitude of this national crisis in perspective, as my friend, Dr. Toby Cosgrove, CEO and president of Cleveland Clinic states, “this year alone, more Americans will die from opioid and heroin overdoses than we lost in the entire Vietnam War.”

Everyone is looking for a silver bullet: is it money? Is it education? Is it opportunity? Is it access? I decided to go to the source for answers. I started by inviting recovering addicts to sit down with me and tell me their stories, explain how they got in this situation and what the best path forward was for them.

They see their recovery as a lifetime battle, not something you fix with a week of rehab. They see our local communities as our first defense and suggested building quick response teams with firefighters and mobilizing churches and small businesses to provide opportunity and faith.

After sitting down with these survivors and family members who have lost someone to addiction, we decided to launch an opioid addiction advisory board, comprised primarily by recovering addicts.

Helpful feedback from our task force was to change the Good Samaritan Law. This law was passed last year with the idea of making it easier for people to call for help, even if they’re using or in possession of illegal drugs. The problem with this bill is that there are no penalties for continued use of illegal drugs. As governor, I would take feedback from each community and find a balance between safely guiding addicts to help and enforcing repercussions for illegal actions.

As a member of Congress I helped advance the STOP and STOP OD Acts, to enable the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to award grants supporting education on abuse prevention and the nature of addiction and to stop the shipments of dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil through our borders. I also helped advance the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act, which would help equip doctors with important information to prevent overdose tragedies. Unfortunately, current policy prevents doctors from accessing their patient’s addiction treatment history, which in some cases has led to overdose deaths that could have otherwise been prevented.

And, in the next few weeks, I will be introducing the Opioid Prevention Act of 2017 in Congress to further escalate the fight against this deadly addiction. It means limiting drugs like oxycontin and codeine to no-refills and a seven-day supply. CDC found evidence that the risk of addiction jumps significantly after seven days of use. A study of young, urban injection drug users found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers non-medically before jumping into heroin. Most people misuse prescription drugs first before heading down the drug hole and obtain them from a family member or friend, often from a home medicine cabinet. So if we can limit the release of the drug into our environment, maybe we can reduce the access.

With that said, it’s imperative that the state plays it’s part in helping get those stuck in the abyss of addiction the treatment they need to rebuild their lives. We must recognize that the front lines of this battle must ultimately be fought in community organizations and churches across our state, which have a far better track record of successfully tackling these challenges than bureaucrats in Washington or Columbus.

To do that, Ohio must address its looming short-term and long-term budget shortfalls, including the massive cuts to basic services our state will face based upon the current trajectory of future Medicaid expansion spending. With cost estimates ranging from $4 billion to $14 billion over the next eight years, Medicaid expansion is fiscally unsustainable and will siphon resources from other vital programs if not repealed—including drug treatment and prevention programs. Recent studies also indicate Medicaid expansion may have increased opioid abuse and overdoses.

The bottom line is that Ohio should retain more of the tax dollars sent to Washington and total control over Medicaid so my administration can implement a program that meets Ohio’s needs and contains guardrails to avoid making our opioid epidemic worse. As governor, I will work closely with the Ohio General Assembly to get those hurting the resources they need to not just live, but thrive, including using part of the rainy day fund to jumpstart our efforts.

We must never forget that the opioid epidemic is about people, not simply policy. It’s critical that we get those struggling in the abyss of addiction and hopelessness the treatment they need to rebuild their lives and the health care professionals who treat them the resources they need. We as a state can and must do better than simply react to the crisis once it hits us, as our current state leaders have done. We must be proactive in order to ensure Ohio and its people prosper.

Renacci represents Ohio’s 16th District and is a member of the Ways and Means and Budget committees.

Tags A National Epidemic

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