By DENISE GRANT
Donald Trump mentioned Hancock County’s drug problem last week as the president was signing a law meant to combat the opioid fentanyl.
Why he did so is not clear.
Hancock County had at least 18 overdose deaths in 2017, but that number is small compared to some Ohio counties.
The president’s mention of Hancock County shocked Sheriff Michael Heldman.
“Who prompted him? Yes, it is a problem here, but the southern counties of Ohio have more of an opiate problem than we do” when population is considered, Heldman said Monday.
Trump mentioned Hancock County as he was signing the Interdict Act, an acronym for International Narcotics Trafficking Emergency Response by Detecting Incoming Contraband with Technology. The law will provide $15 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to buy chemical screening devices that can detect deadly drugs such as fentanyl as they enter the United States.
The bill was introduced last year by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and was backed by Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman. Brown and Portman were at the White House when the president signed the bill.
“It’s disgraceful what’s happening, coming from different countries including, frankly, China and others, and it’s pouring in at record numbers,” Trump said. “In 2016, nearly 20,000 Americans died as a result of using synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Each death is a tragedy, leaving behind devastated parents, spouses, and orphans all over our country. It’s reaching every corner of our great nation and it shouldn’t be. Rural areas like Hancock County, Ohio. …”
Portman thanked the president for his “support of pushing back.”
“This deadly poison is coming into our communities through the mail system primarily, primarily through China, and this legislation will enable us to have better equipment to detect it,” Portman said.
Brown used the opportunity to speak in defense of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
“Eleven people a day, in my state of Ohio, die from opioid overdose. This is an important bill,” Brown said.
Brown said the next step is to provide dollars to communities to improve treatment.
“We woefully underfund education, prevention and treatment programs. The waiting lists are too long,” Brown said. “That’s the importance of Medicaid. That’s the importance, frankly, of the Affordable Care Act. That’s the importance of funding local communities so that they can do what they need to do to deal with the terrible addiction that so many families face.”
Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Service, said she listened to the president’s remarks during the bill’s signing on Wednesday.
“I think what he was trying to get across is that the epidemic is hitting every corner of our country, including small towns and big towns and I think that he just singled out Hancock County. I don’t think there was any intention of trying to say that we were the worst. Our rank has not changed,” Stuby said.
In 2016, Hancock County had 19 unintentional drug overdose deaths, according to figures published by the Ohio Department of Health.
That same year, Cuyahoga County had 547 overdose deaths, Montgomery County had 320 overdose deaths, Hamilton County had 318, Franklin County had 314, and Summit County had 298, the state health department says.
In terms of population, several counties in southern Ohio had overdose death rates that were far higher than Hancock County’s, the state figures show.
But Hancock County did have more overdose deaths in 2016 than less-populated neighboring counties. Overdose death totals in adjoining counties in 2016 were: Allen County, 31; Hardin County, 7; Henry County, 5; Putnam County, 4; Seneca County, 5; Wood County, 21; Wyandot County, 4.
Paulding County, another rural northwestern Ohio county, was the only Ohio county with no overdose deaths reported in 2016.