President Trump calling the drug crisis — which has killed a record number of Clark County residents this year — a national emergency is a step in the right direction, local leaders said.
However it’s unclear what steps will be taken nationally to fight the crisis, they said, including if more funding will be made available. One agency is also concerned other federal programs facing elimination, such as Medicaid expansion, could affect local treatment efforts.
Last week, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a preliminary report that described the overdose death toll as “September 11th every three weeks” and urged the president to declare a national emergency. Trump is still reviewing the report, White House aides said, and isn’t ready to announce recommendations.
A White House statement issued Thursday evening said that Trump “has instructed his administration to use all appropriate emergency and other authorities to respond to the crisis caused by the opioid epidemic.”
A record 86 people are suspected to have died from a drug overdose this year in Clark County, including 66 confirmed deaths — the majority of which involve illicit fentanyl that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said.
“It’s no secret in Clark County we’re in a crisis situation,” Clark County Commissioner Melanie Flax Wilt said. “Each day, I feel like it gets closer and closer to home. … Any help we can get from the federal or state government is going to be put to good use here.”
Last month Clark County commissioners cited eliminating opioid addiction as one of its goals over the next four years as part of its first-ever strategic plan. Different organizations are working together better to solve the problem, Flax Wilt said, including the Clark County Substance Abuse Coalition.
“We know it’s a lofty goal but if we’re not aiming for that, then I’m afraid we’re not going to try hard enough,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are working very hard at it. We need to make sure we’re giving them the resources to do that job as effectively as possible.”
The state legislature recently passed a budget with $176 million committed to fight the issue, said state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield. A recent attempt to freeze Medicaid expansion — which was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich — didn’t include people dealing with addiction, he said.
“Recognizing the problem is the first step with addicts, but also with the president recognizing Ohio has an issue,” Koehler said.
Fentanyl and carfentanil also are being considered a possible weapon of mass destruction, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
“When you see what it can do and how it can affect thousands of people, it’s a really big deal,” Patterson said. “It’s good that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security are looking at it from multiple aspects because there are certainly lots of potentially negative consequences.”
Opioids are a broad category of legal and illegal drugs, ranging from prescription painkillers to heroin.
The declaration might also bring more resources to the battle, Patterson said. Funding isn’t just a need locally, but nationally for the different aspects for the multi-pronged issue, including law enforcement, treatment and education, he said.
“If people don’t become addicts, we won’t need the treatment and there won’t be anybody to sell it to,” Patterson said. “And then we won’t have an issue.”
A recently approved $213,000 federal grant will allow a first-of-its-kind safe house to open in Springfield later this year, providing addicts seeking help a place to go after an overdose while awaiting treatment. Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland wants to see more money designated for other types of treatment programs, he said.
“We’re trying to do some creative things in Clark County,” he said. “It would be nice to get some help in doing that from the federal government.”
The city has also recently pledged to spend a portion of its recently approved $6.7 million income tax increase to hire six new police officers to form a Safe Streets Task Force, which will focus on stopping drug trafficking and gun violence, Copeland said.
“It’s just good to have everyone recognize at every level that this is an immense problem we all need to deal with it,” Copeland said. “At least thus far, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough.”
The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties unanimously approved a resolution in May requesting state leaders declare the opiate epidemic an emergency to increase investments in multiple areas, including prevention, treatment, recovery support, education and interdiction efforts, board CEO Greta Mayer said.
More resources from the federal government would also expand those efforts, she said. At the same time, other programs facing possible elimination, such as Medicaid expansion that was part of Obamacare, are also an important piece of the puzzle.
“This is a grave concern for us at the local level,” Mayer said. “If Medicaid expansion ends, our local levy dollars that we have been able to use to invest in prevention services and supportive services like housing and job readiness, get re-directed to pay for treatment services for indigent populations that were covered with Medicaid expansion.”
An estimated 2.6 million opioid addicts are in the United States. At the street level, police, firefighters and paramedics now routinely carry naloxone, the anti-overdose drug that can revive an addict from the brink of death amid an overdose known by its brand name Narcan.
Nearly 500 people have died of drug overdoses in Clark County since 1998, according to coroner’s office records. More than half of those people — 265 — died between 2012 and 2016, the result of the opioid epidemic. Last year, the county saw a then-record 79 drug deaths. Clark County has seen nearly 800 overdoses this year, including 620 in Springfield, according to statistics provided by Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson.
The national report issued last week says: “The opioid epidemic we are facing is unparalleled. The average American would likely be shocked to know that drug overdoses now kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined.”
The Washington Post contributed to this report.
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s drug epidemic and what local leaders are doing to solve the problem. On Sunday, the News-Sun will investigate how local schools are addressing the epidemic, including one school that has Narcan on site in case of an overdose.
By the numbers
2.6 million: Estimated opioid addicts in the United States.
800: Estimated number of drug overdoses in Clark County this year, the majority attributed to heroin and fentanyl.
265: People who have died of drug overdoses in Clark County between 2012 and 2016.