Heroin and prescription drugs have ravaged our communities. Overdose deaths have become so prevalent that coroners’ offices across the state are literally running out of space. This is a national epidemic, and, sadly, Ohio is at the center of it. The number one cause of crime in Ohio is opioid addiction and related offenses committed to pay for drugs. An estimated 200,000 Ohioans are suffering from addiction, and at nearly double the national average, Ohio has one of the highest rates of overdose deaths in the country.
I recently visited two Ohio medical centers where addiction is treated and the pathway to recovery begins. I also visited the Customs and Border Protection port of entry at the Greater Cincinnati airport where officers are trying to stop these drugs from ever entering our country.
At the medical centers, I was able to see new approaches that treat the root of addiction rather than just preventing loss of life and sending people home—only to revert back to drug use shortly thereafter. There is no question that Narcan, used to revive those having an overdose, saves lives—but it is treatment centers that provide a second chance to live addiction free. Getting those in need into treatment and long-term recovery programs is what will help turn the tide of addiction.
The Maryhaven Addiction Stabilization Center in Columbus is a great example of this. They are building a new countywide treatment center that will provide both immediate support for overdose victims as well as treatment to overcome addiction. This comprehensive approach is key to battling the root of addiction rather than just treating the immediate symptoms. As a part of the 21st Century Cures legislation, I fought for an additional $1 billion in new funding for states to combat the opioid epidemic. It is this funding that helped provide the means necessary to build this new treatment center.
I also visited the Ohio Health Grant Medical Center in Columbus where they treat babies who are born dependent on opioids. This is a tragic and all too common occurrence in Ohio—expectant mothers battling addiction give birth to children who are dependent on these drugs before taking their first breath. My legislation passed last year, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, provides help to pregnant and postpartum women as well as vulnerable babies affected by this disease.
In addition to treating those in need, we need to keep these deadly drugs off the streets. At a Customs and Border Protection port of entry at the Greater Cincinnati airport, I saw their screening process to stop synthetic heroin, including fentanyl and carfentanil, from reaching Ohio communities. Labs, mostly in China, ship synthetic drugs into Ohio directly through the mail. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, and it is increasingly taking Ohioan’s lives.
In February, I introduced the bipartisan STOP Act to address this problem. It requires the U.S. Postal Service to get electronics customs data for packages entering the country—the same way private carries like UPS and FedEx already do—to give law enforcement the tools to identify, and target, the suppliers of these deadly poisons.
The opioid epidemic in Ohio is a complex problem that requires a comprehensive solution. My visits highlighted some successes, as well as some needed reforms to combat the heroin and prescription drug epidemic flooding our local communities. Everyone has a role, and I will continue to do what I can to assist Ohio communities in this important fight.
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.