The scourge of opioid addiction keeps hitting home, this time with Thursday’s apparent overdose deaths of a Centerville airline pilot and his wife.
It’s happening even after years of politicians promising to do more and pay more to beat what has become one of the most intractable problems facing the nation.
“Sadly this is probably going to work itself out on its own because everyone who is using is going to wind up in recovery or dead,” said Families of Addicts founder Lori Erion, 57, of New Carlisle.
Millions of dollars have been spent in the region and billions across the state and country. More money is in the hopper to help addicts and prevent future addiction, as federal funding approved last year is disbursed to states.
But the overdose death tallies keep rising.
“This is not something that can be resolved overnight, which is tragic but true,” said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
Overdoses are suspected in more than 160 deaths in Montgomery County just since the first of the year. If that pace continues, the county would easily exceed last year’s 355 conclusive or suspected OD deaths. As sad as each of these deaths are, nothing so far has been able to stop the wave.
“We have not reached a peak of the opiate crisis in our nation or in Montgomery County,” said Jodi Long, director of treatment and support services for the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.
“It’s challenging and hard to engage in treatment. You crave it. You dream it. You think about it.”
Heroin has always been a dangerous drug that put people at risk for overdose, but the likelihood of dying has become much greater with the easy availability of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid that drug dealers mix in with heroin.
“The increase in (deaths) is related to the mix of substances, mostly fentanyl,” said Long.
“People who are purchasing opiates on the street have no idea what is in the substances they are using,” Long said. “Opiates, particularly fentanyl, can kill you your first time.”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has renewed his push for the STOP bill he introduced last year to make it harder for synthetic opioids to get into the country. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also plans legislation to help stem the flow of synthetic opioids.
President Donald Trump proposes increasing funding for opioid prevention and treatment, allocating in his proposed budget $500 million more to the Health and Human Services Department and more money for the Justice Department’s drug fight.
But while Trump is calling for more money for opioid treatment in his budget, critics point out that he is supporting the Republican health care reform act that they say will hurt those seeking treatment for addiction. The bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act and roll back Medicaid expansion, which helps fund addiction and mental health treatment.
Brown last week said the Republican health care bill would make it harder to fight the scourge of addiction and the destruction to families caused by it.
“We need to invest in fighting the opioid epidemic that is tearing families and communities apart — not throw 200,000 Ohioans off the insurance helping them get treatment for their addiction,” he said. “We should be supporting the communities across our state who are battling this epidemic — not taking needed money away from Ohio first responders or ripping insurance away from those in treatment as they work to tackle their addiction. I agree with Governor (John) Kasich: We cannot take away this coverage from Ohioans overcoming addiction.”
Plouck said Kasich is working with other governors and members of Congress to ensure that vulnerable people are not left without services.
Last year Ohio spent $940 million on drug and alcohol treatment services. The state has applied for $26 million in federal 21st Century Cures money, signed by President Barack Obama last year, and expects to get the money in May, Plouck said. Montgomery County is one of the high-priority hard-hit counties that will be getting an infusion of the money to pay for drug abuse prevention and treatment, she said.
The state will use the federal money to assist community-based anti-drug coalitions, provide more treatment to addicts and prevention services in schools and communities, and train doctors in the latest science on addictions.
Last year the state spent $940 million on drug and alcohol treatment, Plouck said. The CURES grants are funded at $1 billion over the next two years, according to Emily Benavides, spokeswoman for Portman.
Poirtman supported that funding and co-sponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which is fully funded at $181 million to pay for education, treatment and recovery services, Benavides said.
Montgomery County Commissioners last year allocated an additional $3.5 million in Human Services Levy money to expand addiction treatment services. That money has allowed the county to add withdrawal treatment beds, more recovery housing for pregnant women, expanded services to people who have overdosed and been revived with the antidote drug Narcan, additional treatment for jail inmates and other services.
Still, the toll of the epidemic seems never to stop.
Erion said the government needs to make transportation more available to people needing treatment and to speed up the response when someone calls for help.
“People don’t really grab a hold of recovering until they are good and ready to do so,” said Erion, whose daughter is a recovering addict. “So if I waved the magic wand I would wave it so that the person who calls and says, ‘I’m ready for help now’ we go get them, bring them to what they are wanting and start the process as soon as they make that call.”