COLUMBUS — During times of crisis, there are oftentimes when one voice, one vision is needed to create a path out of the situation, with too many ideas and no consensus leading to inaction. However, when it comes to seeking solutions to the alarming rise of heroin, legislators rely on multiple perspectives and experiences, according to state Rep. Bob Cupp, R-Lima.
“I think that actual experiences that people have, whether it’s a family member or themselves or whether it’s through the eyes of emergency responders or law enforcement, all of those are very helpful,” he said.
After learning of the alarming rise of heroin in Hardin County, Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, started taking a leadership role in seeking solutions to heroin abuse. For him and others in the statehouse, the pressing nature of this problem has helped to overcome any potential gridlock.
“Because of the severity of the epidemic, it’s really caused us to all take stock of what needs to be done,” he said. “As a result, I think it’s pulled people together from both parties to say, ‘What do we need to do to address this?’”
As legislators such as Cupp and Sprague have put their heads together, they have found that there is not going to be one simple solution to this issue of heroin, and that a multipronged attack strategy is required.
“It boils down to three main catagories,” Sprague said. “The first is preventing more people from becoming addicted, and that has to do with reducing the number of prescription pain killers coming out of the medical system. In all of our K-12 health classes now, we’re teaching kids about the link between prescription pain killers and addiction to heroin. The second is closing down the chain of custody within the medical system to make sure that pain killers stay where they’re prescribed. The third piece of the puzzle is treatment and trying to save people’s lives. We want to make sure we have a full continuum of care, including medication substitutes, counseling, group therapy and peer sponsorship.”
There were 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2014, with more than half of them related to either heroin or prescription pain killers, making overdoses the leading cause of accidental death in the nation, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. While these numbers emphasize the need for legislative action, that action has not always come swiftly.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, first introduced in early 2015. It did not pass the Senate until March of this year, with House passage coming in May. When signed into law, CARA would provide for expanded opioid abuse education efforts, both to teenagers and the elderly, expand naloxone availability to law enforcement, strengthen drug monitoring programs and expand disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications.
“After two years of listening to those in recovery, families, advocates, and law enforcement, I’m more determined than ever to get this bill signed into law so it can begin to make a real difference in the lives of those who are suffering from addiction,” Portman said.
The legislation is still awaiting the president’s signature.
Even with action that has already been taken, legislators acknowledge it may take some time before the battle is won.
“It’s going to take a while to work through this,” Sprague said. “It’s going to be a process.”
Reach Craig Kelly at 567-242-0390 or on Twitter @Lima_CKelly.