Five ways to change the opioid epidemic in Ohio

By Ashley Bunton - Staff Columnist

1. Change the law

The state of today’s opioid epidemic is the shaping of 103 years of legislature.

When the Harrison Act was passed in 1914 the federal government invested in creating the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department. The Narcotics Division, acting as a police enforcement agency, persecuted doctors in 1919 who prescribed opioid pain medications.

Addicts were essentially outlawed from society. This forced people already dependent on those substances to turn to underground trade. The war on drugs was born.

The Supreme Court of the United States eventually overturned the lower courts’ rulings that had convicted the doctors, but this act served to define the use of opioids as a criminal issue in society instead of a socio-medical issue.

Today treatment resources are still few and far between. In rural counties and small towns and cities where the opioid epidemic is hitting hard, residential medical treatment for substance abuse either does not exist or cannot handle the number of people who require it. This is partly due to the stigmatization.

Taxpayers continue to pay for the opioid users to sit inside jails resulting in overcrowded and unsafe conditions among inmates. Call the senators and ask them to introduce legislation to help you to create the society you want to see by implementing a new legal system that handles the opioid epidemic as a socio-medical issue and not a criminal issue.

Write letters to your local courts and inquire as to whether or not they have applied with the Ohio Supreme Court to establish drug courts in their jurisdictions. Tell them how you want your tax dollars to be spent to solve this issue.

2. Reference people as “users” not “addicts”

Isidor Chein and fellow researchers established evidence in the 1950s that shows, among many important aspects of substance abuse, that words do matter.

Following heroin users in New York City in the 1950s, Chein’s research and analysis found that there are differences in people who use heroin. Some are habitual and everyday users with total involvement in the drug. Others have been recreational users for a time and quit.

Chein’s research found that labeling all people who use heroin as “addicts” effects the person’s ability to stop using drugs.

Similarly, studies have shown that students are more likely to fail if a teacher tells them they will fail.

Using the term “heroin users” instead of “heroin addicts” may have a far-reaching impact as to how people respond to treatment and if people accept treatment as a resolution to the socio-medical problem of substance abuse.

People’s perspectives are formed through television and social media (and for those who read, through articles and books). Changing the terminology of “addict” to “user” may help to reduce the stigmatization in society associated with treatment for drug abuse, thus allowing more acceptance of treatment to integrate within the medical societies in communities.

Chein has published quite a few studies and scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals, including “Heroin Use and Street Gangs” in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1958). He eventually published a book, “The Road to H: Narcotics, Deliquincy and Social Policy.”

3. Start a needle exchange program

Communities must identify places in which there are no needle exchange programs and work to establish programs.

In rural areas especially, where there may not be a local needle exchange program, dirty and used needles are tossed out on the streets and left behind in parks. This creates major health risks for communities.

Drug users whose needle breaks or who are in need of a needle may walk around until they find a dirty one and pick it up and use it. This makes the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis rampant, and communities could see an increase in the number of children born with diseases.

Additionally sharing needles increases the possibility of spreading bacterial infections like cellulitis, necrotizing fasciitis and tetanus.

Providing clean needles does not enable and encourage drug use, because a person is going to use the drug whether they can find a clean needle, use a dirty one, or share one with another person. Providing clean needles does discourage the spread of diseases like hepatitis and makes communities safe by preventing outbreaks of diseases and infections from occurring.

4. Carry Narcan and know the signs of an overdose

Overdoses are an unfortunate result of the disease of substance abuse. It’s not uncommon today for overdoses to occur in public places as the epidemic grows outside of being a problem behind closed doors.

The immediate signs of an overdose may include: slurred speech, the inability to stand, nodding off, being unresponsive, loss of consciousness, uncontrollable movements, sudden collapses, and loss of blood circulation or appearing to be blue.

Being prepared to administer a dose of naloxone (Narcan) can help to reverse the affects of the overdose immediately.

It could take awhile for emergency medical technicians to arrive and because some people may be too afraid to call 911 for help, they may wait until the last minute, try to revive the person overdosing through other methods or drive the person overdosing to another location.

The local Red Cross, Salvation Army, health department, or AIDS resource center may be able to provide Narcan and training on how to administer it. Having Narcan on hand to be able to administer it if a person begins to have an overdose may save a life. It’s still important to call 911 so that the person experiencing the overdose gets immediate medical attention.

The person who calls 911 or the police to report a suspected overdose is generally not liable for criminal charges for being a good Samaritan and is granted immunity — but it depends.

In Ohio the good Samaritan law changed under the 2016 Ohio House Bill 110 so that a person may only be granted immunity twice. Additionally the law adds a provision that if the person calling for help is on parole or supervision through a court they may face criminal consequences for calling for help during an overdose.

5. Give knowledge

Disseminate information and knowledge widely and freely. Write letters to your local and state newspapers and participate in community forums to understand the different possibilities to the solving problems. Carry a card or brochure that lists the names and phone numbers of different treatment centers in the region. Give this information to a person if you know they’ve had an overdose or are at-risk for having one. No one can force a drug user into treatment but making sure the information is there for them when they are ready to seek treatment will put them one step closer to being in the right place.

By Ashley Bunton

Staff Columnist

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by email at or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by email at or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton