LIMA — Ohio attorney general candidate David Pepper said Wednesday he would address a heroin epidemic in the state with a broad-based task force and additional dollars and support at the local level.
Campaigning in Lima, Pepper said what’s been done so far is insufficient.
“Three years of this problem exploding and very little from the state in terms of help, and we’ve only begun talking about it recently. Town hall meetings should have been taking place three years ago,” Pepper said, criticizing Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s recent meetings around the state, including in Lima on Monday.
As the state cracked down on pill mills providing opiate painkillers, those addicted have turned to heroin, cheaper and more readily available on the street than prescription medication. Pepper said a law enforcement-only approach to the issue created the heroin epidemic, and he wants a broader approach.
“This is a public health crisis and that’s how we’ll approach it,” said Pepper, a Democrat, Cincinnati attorney and former Hamilton County commissioner. “Local officials have been battling this problem for years and the state deprived them of local government funds at the very moment when this crisis was exploding.”
Pepper said he would work with the Legislature, use Medicaid expansion dollars and possibly sue pharmaceutical companies for funding the work.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, was in Lima on Monday for a community forum with law enforcement, health officials and others to discuss the heroin and other drug abuse issues. DeWine created a heroin unit late last year within his office to address the problem, and is spending $1 million on it.
Pepper criticized the effort, saying it was too little and late, compared to other states’ work on the issue. DeWine has declined to say what the unit has done since its creation in November, saying that it’s part of law enforcement efforts.
DeWine has said Pepper is politicizing the issue and that his office has responded to the problem with overall improvements in his office.
Campaigning in Lima, Pepper said he would form a multi-agency heroin task force that pairs law enforcement with public health officials that would track the issue in real time, propose solutions and then monitor their effect. He also would invest in prevention programming and treatment, including within the criminal justice system.
Pepper said he would investigate suing pharmaceutical companies that he said overmarketed the benefits of opiate painkillers and undersold their risks. He said the state of Kentucky recently received $32 million in a settlement with companies that is funding the efforts against heroin.
Pepper also supports recently passed legislation increasing the availability of a drug that can prevent overdose deaths from heroin. Hundreds of people in Ohio have died as a result of heroin overdoses, and Pepper said he would work with local law enforcement to trace back the dealer who sold the heroin resulting in the death and treat the crime as a homicide, not a drug dealing felony.
Pepper also said he would provide local law enforcement and first responders with training and dollars.