The faces of opiate addiction are all around us. They are our neighbors, our coworkers and our closest friends. Sometimes they are our own family members. Throughout southern Ohio, we’ve suffered the loss of life and witnessed firsthand how addiction can tear families apart.
For many, addiction begins when legitimately prescribed narcotics are either misused or fall into the wrong hands. Once addicted, the body’s physical and psychological dependence often leads the user to pursue alternatives, such as heroin, which are significantly cheaper and, unfortunately, widely available. The rate of death caused by accidental drug overdose has increased by more than 400 percent since 2000. Drug overdoses claim the lives of five Ohioans each and every day.
Gaining a foothold in the battle against opiate addiction requires innovation, determination and persistence. Combatting the opiate addiction crisis requires strong collaboration between our criminal justice system and addiction services. Programs like the Ross County Heroin Partnership Project are helping to treat incoming jail inmates with substance abuse issues and connect them with the appropriate services. Providing such addiction services during incarceration is shown to decrease recidivism.
As the new school year begins, teachers and community leaders must bring the message of drug prevention into the classroom. Last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the formation of the Joint Student Committee on Drug Use Prevention Education, which is made up of legislators, law enforcements professionals, educators and drug prevention and treatment specialists.
The committee is tasked with reexamining drug use prevention education offered in Ohio’s schools and submitting recommendations for strategic improvements to existing programs. While the fight against opiate addiction is an uphill battle, several initiatives in our own community are already making important strides forward. In Gallia County, for example, a program spearheaded by Health Recovery Services Inc. called Teen Institute is spreading awareness in local schools. Led by middle- and high-school students, the organization offers after-school programs and camps that promote leadership and healthy, drug-free lifestyles.
Through programs like the Teen Institute, the youth in our community are taking a stand against the drug abuse by speaking directly to their peers. These programs encourage our young people to make decisions that lay the groundwork for a healthy, successful future while building valuable leadership skills. Those of us who are parents of young people should realize that talking about drugs starts in the home but continues in the classroom. Ohio’s General Assembly will continue to support drug prevention programs and other initiatives aimed at preempting addiction before it takes root.
The opiate epidemic is a war that must be fought on all fronts. As the rate of death from accidental overdose continues to rise, we must join with our neighbors to do everything in our power to reclaim Ohio from opiate addiction – for the student who is thinking about trying drugs to fit in, for the loved ones of those who are struggling and for the inmate looking for a fresh start. There is still much work to be done in our efforts to combat Ohio’s addition crisis.
Sen. Bob Peterson represents the 17th District in the Ohio Senate, which encompasses all or part of Clinton, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Pickaway, Pike, Ross and Vinton counties.