By Debra Tobin
While it's apparent there's a drug addiction and drug abuse problem in Southeastern Ohio, U.S. Congressman Steve Stivers (R-15th District) is trying to help remedy the problem and held an Opiate Roundtable meeting Tuesday morning in Lancaster.
Public officials, law enforcement, and other state, county and city officials from throughout Southeastern Ohio gathered to discuss the issues and concerns of the rampant epidemic plaguing communities on a day-to-day basis.
"This is an epidemic that's not going away and we realize there is a need to combat the problems before they get worse," Stivers said. "I'm hoping through the roundtable sessions we can come to some sort of understanding of the problems and decide on the best method of deterring it before it gets worse."
"We are losing a generation," stated Hocking County Sheriff Chief Deputy Dave Valkinburg. "We are losing the next generation of taxpayers, employees and productive citizens -- all due to drug addiction."
While everyone agreed with Valkinburg, Fairfield County Prosecutor Gregg Marx stated that one of the issues is severe under funding of law enforcement throughout the state.
"There's not enough law enforcement officers to enforce the laws," Marx said. "We also need stronger sentencing for convicted drug addicts."
Throughout the two-hour session, Stivers interacted with those in attendance in hopes of gaining more knowledge about how to combat the ever-growing problems faced daily by law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.
"Out of the people I see in my court every day, there are at least 80 percent who have opiates in their system," stated Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses.
"We are in desperate need of a jail, but need funding in order to build it," he continued. "We don't have but five bed spaces for women in our jail in Nelsonville, so I have to turn people back out onto the streets. This is something I live with every day."
Moses told the panel of 30 attendees, "There's not a public restroom in Hocking County that someone hasn't died of an overdose in or shot up in. We don't have the funding we need to support the programs to help these people or available space to send them to jail."
"Just last week a young lady that I was going to put on the Vivitrol program shot up in a bathroom on Georgesville Road and died," Moses continued. "We just received a grant from the 317 Board that will be used for the Vivitrol program and she was the next one we were going to put in the program."
"This is stuff I live with daily," he said. "It's sad."
Deputy director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, John Postewaite, concurred that there is a dire need for more funding to be funneled throughout Southeastern Ohio.
"Drugs are coming down either 23 or 33 into our communities," Postewaite noted. "Addicts can now buy heroin for $7 a balloon because it's being brought into our communities in vast amounts, making it an easy market."
Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen spoke to the panel regarding how most crimes of theft are drug-related. "Most addicts steal to support their drug-addiction habits," he said.
"And locking up everybody doesn't work, it only adds to the issue," Moses said.
"You can't tell a county with no money and no jail, "Here they are they're yours, deal with them,'" Phalen noted.
One member of the panel suggested cutting off the demand and supply and finding a treatment program for those who have addiction problems. However, without funding and the means of hiring more law enforcement officers, this is not possible.
Postewaite also questioned the legality of medical marijuana, "What is medical marijuana? It's just marijuana. There's nothing medical about it."
After bouncing ideas back and forth, Stivers determined there are several areas of concern that need to be addressed, including:
* Internet cooperation with Canada and Mexico, as this is a major source of the drug supply coming into Ohio.
* Internet pharmacy suppliers -- it was determined a lot of addicts purchase illegal drugs online.
* Advertising pharmaceuticals on television, radio, Internet, and other media outlets -- advertising of these products could lead to addiction.
* Treatment programs -- there is a dire need for funding for more treatment programs in the state.
* Funding for special unit law enforcement agencies.
* Integrating information into electronic medical records for easier access to medical professionals, law enforcement, etc.
* Underfunding of law enforcement and mental health issues.
* Dealing with funding for treatment in rural communities.
* Laws and rules on dosage issues.
While the issues and concerns of drug addiction appear to be limitless, Stivers wants to dig deeper into the problems plaguing Southeastern Ohio, and will be offering other roundtable sessions in the near future.
"I believe it's urgent we keep on top of the drug-addiction problems in the area and do what we can to stop this growing epidemic," Stivers said.
Drug addiction is not uncommon to Southeastern Ohio. Actually, it has become such a problem that law enforcement and court systems have been overwhelmed with drug-related cases on a daily basis.
"Legislation did kill the pill mills," said Moses. "But now we have been treating addicts with Suboxone and it's become addictive."
Suboxone has become a new drug of choice and it's one of the major drugs sold by pharmaceuticals to treat opiate addiction, he noted. Moses feels the best treatment program offered is Vivitrol, which is an opioid receptor antagonist used in the treatment of alcoholism and opioid addiction.
While nothing was resolved and there are no concrete answers to help deter drug-addiction throughout Southeastern Ohio, the panel walked away with more knowledge of the outlying problems of not only Hocking, but also Perry, Fairfield and Ross counties.
Stivers goal is to bring all agencies together to work on a mass plan to combat the everlasting opiate epidemic in Southeast Ohio.
Representatives from Stivers office, as well as Sen. Troy Balderson's office, Adena Hospital in Chillicothe, the U.S. Attorney's Office, state representatives and the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy also attended the meeting, in addition to representatives of Hocking, Perry, Fairfield and Ross counties.