In Ohio, at least 12 people die each day due to drug overdoses. If a terrorist attack happened daily in one of our cities or villages killing a dozen people, we would be up in arms. Sadly, losing 12 people each day in Ohio to drug overdoses has become our new normal.
For many, the origins of the opiate crisis go back to the overuse of pain medicines that large pharmaceutical companies promoted through slick marketing efforts. They convinced physicians that opioids were not addictive and that addiction was an easy thing to overcome – often by taking more opioids.
Despite evidence to the contrary about the addictive nature of opioids, the pharmaceutical companies continued to market these medicines, leading Ohioans to become addicted to their products. Because these drugs are so addictive, users will seek ever more potent drugs to get high, including heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil — an elephant tranquilizer. These drugs have helped create the worst public health crisis in Ohio – and the repercussions will be with us for decades to come.
That is why I filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state against five of the largest manufacturers of brand-name and generic opioids. We believe that the evidence presented in our lawsuit will show that these companies flooded the market with misleading information about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids.
They got Ohioans addicted to their powerful medications and justice demands that they should help clean up the mess they’ve created.
There are tragic stories from all corners of our state – from rural areas to big cities. Addicts are overdosing in restaurants, movie theaters, and even in the parking lot of an elementary school during afterschool pick up. Or the law enforcement officer in East Liverpool who accidentally touched a substance that caused him to overdose, but thankfully was revived with naloxone. Or the fact that the Ohio Department of Health has had to loan refrigerated semi-trucks to several counties because their morgues were overflowing with dead overdose victims.
The stories are horrific, but perhaps the most heart-wrenching victims of this crisis are our youngest Ohioans. Infants are born addicted to opioids due to pre-natal exposure and then must suffer as they face the painful process of withdrawal. We can only speculate about what the long–term neurological and cognitive impacts will be.
And we have an escalating crisis in our foster care system. Our child welfare agencies are bursting at the seams with kids who need to be placed with loving foster care families because one or both of their parents are addicted to drugs. At least 50 percent of kids and 70 percent of infants placed in Ohio’s foster care system have parents with opioid addictions.
These kids have only one chance to grow up. And being part of a loving home with stability, structure and a caring adult is the key to a brighter future.
To try and help these kids, my office has funded an innovative new pilot program in 18 southern Ohio counties called START, which increases resources to children’s services agencies for intensive attention for both children and parents to promote recovery and family reunification.
And, I’ve issued a call to Ohioans who have ever thought about becoming foster parents to take that leap and become a licensed foster parent. The need is great, as more than 15,000 children are in Ohio’s foster care system, and there are only 7,200 foster families available.
To help potential foster families, we’ve taken steps to make the process easier. We’ve created a webpage on our website (www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov/FosterFamilies) where you’ll find important information about becoming a foster family. And, we’ve set up a dedicated email address to expedite the required background checks for foster parent applicants (FosterCheck@OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov).
Additionally, I have announced $1 million grant to help child welfare agencies in 10 hard-hit Ohio counties fund staff to help recruit new foster families.
The opiate epidemic is a tragedy of tremendous proportions. It will take all of us working together to turn the tide of this devastating epidemic.
Mike DeWine is the Ohio Attorney General.