DeWine: Opioid crisis is hurting the state’s economy

Attorney General Mike DeWine. Photo by Jim Otte
Attorney General Mike DeWine. Photo by Jim Otte

As Attorney General Mike DeWine travels the state, ramping up his campaign for governor, he’s been talking about what he thinks is the number one issue facing Ohioans — jobs.

But every speech and interview about jobs, he said, inevitably turns to drugs, specifically the opioid crisis that is hitting Ohio harder than most other states.

“The number one complaint I get from employers… they say ‘Our biggest problem is we can’t find workers. We can’t find workers who can pass a drug test. We can’t find people who have the requisite skills,’” DeWine said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday.

“It’s really inhibiting our growth as a state, besides the horrible personal tragedy,” he said. “We’re losing 15 people a day. It’s a great threat to the state.”

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Many of the candidates for governor in 2018 have made addressing the drug crisis part of their platform, with varying approaches to how to tackle the problem.

Also running for the Republican nomination are Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Congressman Jim Renacci.

On the Democratic side, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, former U.S. representative Betty Sutton of Akron, and Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill have all said they are running. Speculation Wednesday also focused on former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who announced he is leaving his federal job as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

DeWine recently announced a 12-point plan to address addiction in the state that includes creating at least 60 more specialized drug courts, expanding drug task force models, expanding early intervention programs that target Ohio families and children in foster care, doubling substance abuse treatment capacity, and instituting drug prevention education in all schools.

As Attorney General he also filed a lawsuit against drug manufacturers for creating an over-prescribing culture. Whaley also has sued drug makers to make them pay for the cost of fighting the epidemic.

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“No one is really ahead of this problem,” DeWine said.

The good news he said, is that there are many groups working at the local level who are making progress in their communities.

“I’m a great believer in local government,” he said. “I think the state has to help.”

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DeWine wants to see all the various efforts to combat opioids coordinated better, but says the best thing the state can do to start is also the easiest.

“We have to as a state say we are going to put a focus on education and prevention,” DeWine said. “It’s the cheapest thing we can do, it’s the most cost effective and it’s going to save a lot of lives over a long period of time.”

His plan for K-12: Age-appropriate drug education that would be mandatory for schools if he becomes governor.

DeWine also said the state must be vigilant looking out for fraud, as not every company offering help is above board.

“This is coming, and I think people need to be careful… and make sure that when they put their loved one in some kind of program that it really is a good program,” he said.

At a recent event in Westerville at which national commentator Frank Luntz interviewed the four Republican candidates, several of them made an effort to distance themselves from Gov. John Kasich, whose name even elicited boos.

Asked this week for his critique of Kasich, DeWine declined.

“People vote their future,” he said. “They don’t vote the past.”