Drug Plague Hits E. Ohio

Drug abuse is devastating Jefferson County worse than almost any other region of Ohio, the state Department of Health has revealed.

During the five-year period from 2007-2011, Jefferson County had the third worst rate of drug overdose deaths in the state, according to a health department report released Friday. During that five-year period, 84 drug overdose deaths were reported in the county – a rate of 24.6 per 100,000 population. Only Brown and Scioto counties were hit harder.

Rates of drug abuse in the Buckeye State are at historic highs, the health department reported after an analysis of deaths from 2000 to 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were available.

During 2011 alone, drug overdoses killed 1,765 people in Ohio. That is more than triple the number just a decade ago.

Here in East Ohio, the figures are even more grim. During the 2007-2011 period, 122 people died from overdoses in Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and Monroe counties. The bulk of them, 84, were in Jefferson County.

Ten years ago, Jefferson County recorded just four drug overdose deaths. Six times that many occurred in 2001.

None of this even considers the other terrible costs of drug abuse. Babies are born addicted to drugs. Other children suffer in uncountable ways because their parents are addicted. Families break up. Jobs are lost. Lives are ruined.

And as we know all too well in this area, innocent bystanders suffer, too. Drug-related crime victimizes hundreds of Ohio Valley residents each year. In a few communities, including Steubenville, some neighborhoods have become battlegrounds for rival drug pushers.

Just a few days ago, before the health department report was released, we suggested the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration should send a strike force to Steubenville.

In many ways, the local community is nothing like the big cities in which DEA agents are accustomed to working. But in one, it is just like an urban area: the death rate from drug abuse.

This needs to end, and it has become agonizingly obvious local authorities are so outnumbered and outgunned by the pushers that we need help.