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Facing Heroin Plague in Ohio

January 10, 2014
The Intelligencer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Heroin overdoses claim about 11 lives each week in Ohio, it has been estimated. The epidemic, which has spread to the Ohio Valley, also ruins thousands of lives and makes battlegrounds out of some neighborhoods.

Various initiatives have been undertaken to reduce the enormous human carnage caused by the spread of heroin use in Ohio. State Attorney General Mike DeWine has established a task force to focus on it. More than two dozen health care providers have had their licenses revoked for prescribing or providing opiate painkillers improperly. And street-level arrests and raids occur frequently.

Yet the epidemic continues and, in some places, seems to be intensifying.

One coalition of concerned people and institutions has released an action plan to battle heroin. It includes 11 points, ranging from stricter guidelines on opiate prescriptions to "advocating for legislation." Precisely what new laws should be supported was not specified.

Perhaps the most important of the panel's suggestions is "prioritizing heroin overdose as a public health threat." Clearly, it is just that. Last year, 606 people - that state officials know of - died from heroin overdoses. Emergency ambulance crews say that is just a fraction of the number of overdose cases they handle, sometimes saving victims' lives.

Ohio is not alone in coping with a massive drug problem. Other states, including West Virginia, face it, too. In the Mountain State, the chief concern is methamphetamines - though in the Ohio Valley, heroin has established a hold, too.

And drug abuse is nothing new. Health care professionals noticed a serious problem after the Civil War, when some wounded soldiers became addicted to opiate painkillers.

The history of drug abuse certainly does not inspire confidence that Ohio can find a way to reduce the harm caused by heroin. But, as has been suggested, a good first step would be for legislators, health care providers and Buckeye State residents to recognize it is a serious, deadly challenge that must be faced.

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