Sen. Portman tells Trimble employees Ohio must defeat opioid crisis

Sen. Rob Portman served pancakes to employees of Trimble in Huber Heights Monday morning. Afterwards, he visited with patients and counselors at a Dayton rehabilitation center. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

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Sen. Rob Portman served pancakes to employees of Trimble in Huber Heights Monday morning. Afterwards, he visited with patients and counselors at a Dayton rehabilitation center. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF

Jobs are important to Ohio but for the Buckeye State to prosper, the opioid crisis must be defeated, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman told workers Monday at the Trimble plant in Huber Heights.

Portman’s talk ranged from taxes to pancakes, but he returned to the opioid crisis time and again, with and without prompting from employees a the Kellenburger Road plant. Afterwards he visited the Project Cure rehabilitation center in Dayton. Drugs and heroin are the No. 1 causes of premature death in Ohio, Portman said.

And often prescription drugs are given too freely, which is how the problem can begin, he said.

“Unfortunately, I have run into people all over our state who have had their children or their brothers or themselves get addicted through prescription drugs,” Portman said.

Portman said the crisis is one reason why he opposed the recent House-passed version of health care reform. Often, people take their first steps in treatment via Ohio’s expanded Medicaid coverage.

”I wasn’t able to support the House version primarily because of that issue,” Portman said after his public remarks to Trimble employees. “Not just opioids, but the issue of how Medicaid and expanded Medicaid were treated. We’re working on some alternatives.”

In early May, the House passed its version of reform. The Senate is crafting its own bill as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”

Portman said education and prevention remain key in the battle against drugs. So do persistent public information campaigns, he added, favorably citing as an example Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s public awareness campaigns.

“I think that is the most effective way to deal with this issue, to keep people from getting into addiction in the first place,” the senator said.

The problem has ravaged Dayton and Ohio. On Monday, city of Dayton leaders announced a lawsuit against drug companies and distributors whom city officials contend are responsible for the epidemic. “We are beyond a crisis,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said in announcing the action. “We are in an emergency.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced his own lawsuit against drug makers last week. has named Dayton the worst big city for drug overdoses. Overwhelmed by the problem earlier this year, the Montgomery County coroner's office has resorted to asking local funeral parlors to help deal with the overflow of bodies, an action that attracted international coverage.

Use of opioids — oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl — is increasingly widespread. Ninety-eight people died from accidental overdoses in the county in May, this newspaper has reported. The total number of deaths in the county in the first five months of 2017 has surpassed all of 2016.

With some 600 Dayton-area employees, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble designs and makes GPS and “position-aware” devices, and the federal government is one of its most important customers. If the Trump administration moves forward on plans to expand and renew national infrastructure, Trimble products will be part of the mix. Trimble also makes hardware and components for heavy equipment such as excavators and bulldozers.

“Infrastructure is one of the new issues obviously that Washington is considering,” said Portman, a Republican. “I’m a fiscal conservative; I believe we should be spending our tax dollars more wisely. And what better way to do than to technology applied to infrastructure as an example.”

A Trimble employee also asked about tax reform. Portman argued that taxes today “hurt all of us,” encouraging companies to move headquarters to locales with more favorable tax policies and discouraging domestic investment.

“You are asked to compete with one hand tied behind your back because we haven’t kept up with other countries as far as modernizing our tax code,” Portman said.

Portman said Trimble is an important supplier to the government, and that was one chief reason to visit the company.

“I was here to congratulate them, see what they’re doing and see if I could help them add more jobs,” Portman said.

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