A year ago, state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, and other House members set out on a tour of Ohio to explore the growing opiate epidemic.
That effort was prompted by an alarming surge of overdose deaths which resulted when people who had gotten addicted to prescription painkillers turned to heroin when the state began to crack down on pill mills.
The lawmakers’ search for answers was urgent, especially after health officials tallied up the numbers from 2012. In all, 680 Ohioans died that year of heroin overdoses.
Sprague’s Prescription Drug Addiction and Healthcare Reform Study led to a wider awareness of the problem and to multiple bills, some of which have already passed the House. Others are still being discussed there and in the Senate.
Many communities, including Findlay, have responded by addressing the need for inpatient treatment for addicts, and by offering collection locations for old or unneeded medications.
Educational efforts have also begun.
Now, another legislative study committee will take a different look at Ohio’s drug epidemic.
Similar to last year, the bipartisan panel will hold hearings across the state, but will focus on how drug addiction impacts law enforcement and families. It will explore how police agencies can better coordinate and share information about drug use, the impact of employee drug abuse on business, and criminal sentencing issues.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Dorothy Pelanda, R-Marysville, who will lead the panel, said some judges are frustrated that mandatory sentencing laws prevent them from ordering alternatives including treatment, which in many cases may be a better option than prison.
The committee’s first of four scheduled meetings will be Aug. 19 in Wilmington. Later, the panel will hold hearings in Marion, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
The effort is a logical extension of Sprague’s. Our drug problems are complicated and reach far into our lives, at work, and impact all aspects of the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, with drug overdoses still the number one cause of accidental death in Ohio, heroin will continue to need our attention.
Sprague has said the state must get in front of the problem, instead of chasing it from behind.
Ohio is making progress, but still has some catching up to do. It is doing the right thing by going back to our neighborhoods and cities to listen to the people who know the most about the problems and how we can go about fixing them.
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