The next governor of Ohio in all likelihood will inherit a drug crisis that continues to kill thousands of Ohioans each year.
The annual cost of opiate abuse, addiction and overdoses to Ohio is estimated at $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion, according to researchers at Ohio State University. Beyond the dollars and cents, the scourge is killing on average of 12 Ohioans every day.
As the various candidates — four Republicans and five Democrats and counting — circle the state and lay out their plans for solving the crisis, we asked each to say what they would do about reducing overdose deaths if elected.
All the Republicans favor repealing Obamacare and rolling back Ohio’s Medicald expansion. Although Medicaid expansion increased access to drug treatment to some 200,000 low-income Ohioans with drug abuse issues, Republicans argue that it’s not sustainable and that Ohio would be better off if the feds sent money to the state in the form of block grants that could then be used on programs that best fit the state’s needs.
Some of their other approaches differ, however.
DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, filed a lawsuit on May 31 in Ross County against five drug makers, including household names such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson, arguing the corporations engaged in fraudulent marketing of powerfully addictive painkillers — charges the drug companies deny.
DeWine also issued a 12-step recovery plan that includes passing legislation to give the governor authority to declare a public health emergency, step up law enforcement data sharing, expand drug task forces and drug courts and double treatment capacity.
Like the other Republican candidates, he favors repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a system where the feds send the money to the states, which in theory can then design a system that works in that state.
Husted, Ohio’s Secretary of State, said the long-term solution to the opioid crisis is investing in education and worker training that will give Ohioans a pathway to good-paying jobs. In the near-term, Ohio needs to invest in quality drug treatment programs, stop traffickers, make the new prescribing rules a matter of state law, invest in alternative chronic pain management approaches and demand some personal accountability so people take ownership of their own health, he said.
He wants to tie Medicaid benefits to work or job-training requirements.
“I think the opioid crisis is a symptom of a lot of other breakdowns in our economy and our society,” Husted said. “It is not the cause of our problems. It is a symptom of our problems.”
Ohio’s problems, he said, include a lack of good-paying jobs, a breakdown of families and a social safety net that traps people in cycles of generational poverty. “Those are the reasons that some of these problems exist.”
The congressman from Wadsworth in northeast Ohio opposes continuing expanded Medicaid, which opened up paths for drug treatment for more than 200,000 low-income Ohioans. Hepredicts that Medicaid expansion will lead to “massive cuts to basic state services, including existing opioid addiction treatment programs.”
He pledged to work with cities and counties on the opiate crisis. “I think the state is going to have to (provide funding for drug treatment), but they’re going to have to use their resources better,” he said. “It still comes down to there is no answer that’s based on money because when you think you have enough money, it runs out.”
He said local communities and the state need to work better together, and he thinks his pro-growth economic reforms will lead to more job creation that will in turn help with the drug crisis, which will instill hope for Ohioans. He said he wants schools to bring vocational-technical classes back to high schools for students who don’t want to go to college. He also wants to stiffen penalties for drug dealers.
The lieutenant governor went public earlier this year in an exclusive interview with the Dayton Daily News about her sons’ battle with opiate addiction. In Dayton recently, Taylor said she would use her own family story to knock down the powerful stigma attached to drug addiction.
“Ask anyone who is dealing with addiction in their family and it’s one day at a time. That’s the way we take it. But today is a good day. We are full of hope,” Taylor said of her adult sons, Michael and Joe.
Taylor is proposing issuing a 10-year, $1-billion bond to pay for drug treatment, hiring more narcotics cops, and building on the work done by Kasich, though she opposes continuing the Medicaid expansion that he championed and helped put in place.
None have called for repealing Obamacare, and one — former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton — voted for the legislation when she was in the U.S. House. Their proposals vary from lawsuits against drug companies to rolling back tax cuts and using the money to address the crisis.
Hannah said “I give her credit. As kind of a lesser known candidate, I think having bolder types of ideas is a way to get your name out there. Even if she doesn’t win this time around, she is getting her name on the map.
The Ohio Supreme Court justice — and pediatric nurse — wants to legalize and tax recreational use of marijuana and release non-violent marijuana inmates from state prisons. He calculates that those steps alone would raise $300 million a year, which would allow the state to open 10 regional mental health hospitals across the state to treat roughly 40,000 people each year.
“My single answer, as a military officer, is you fight the battle that you’re in with the tools you have,” he said. “We are in a battle with the opiate crisis. We have the tools readily available. We just have to use them.”
He criticized DeWine and his fellow Democrat, Nan Whaley, for filing lawsuits against drug companies, saying it will take years of litigation and legal fees before Ohioans see results.
“I want to help people who are struggling. I want to help people who are addicted, but we also have to have some personal accountability for them,” O’Neill said. “They have to help themselves too.”
The former Ohio House member from Cincinnati says she’ll work to create jobs as a preventative measure, raise awareness with community leaders, and treat addicts like patients and not criminals.
She also wants to crack down on street dealers and pill mills, and support state funds for children’s services and mentorship programs.
A state senator from the Youngstown area, Schiavoni wants to earmark 10 percent of the $2 billion in the state rainy day fund for drug addiction services, children’s services, law enforcement, first responders and drug courts.
He also wants to roll back Kasich tax cuts for wealthy Ohioans, apply for more federal money and spend money on effective treatment.
Finally, he wants to require insurance companies to cover alternatives to opioids for pain management.
The former congresswoman labels the opiate crisis “our hurricane” and promises to declare it a state of emergency to help give Ohio access federal resources.
Sutton said she favors a multi-pronged approach that includes suing drug companies, punishing dealers, and pushing for prevention and treatment programs.
She also noted that while in the U.S. House she voted in favor of Obamacare, which includes expanded Medicaid.
“It’s clear that more than anything, this epidemic is a disease of economic despair and hopelessness,” she said in a statement. “Dreams and hopes for the future are our greatest tools against this. Nothing stops a needle like a good job and hope for the future. And that is why creating jobs and pathways to those jobs are my highest priority.”
In June, the city of Dayton filed a lawsuit against drug makers, distributors and physician pain specialists who they see as responsible for the crisis, which has killed thousands and drained public resources. More than 100 cities and counties nationwide have now filed lawsuits.
“The big drug companies said opioids weren’t addictive and got Ohioans hooked,” Whaley says in justifying the lawsuit. “A man-made epidemic that these billion-dollar companies created overnight is one our communities will spend years trying to reverse. And our local leaders are struggling to provide resources for those who need treatment and for our first responders who are on the front lines of this epidemic.”
The mayor also proposes charging a nickel per dose surcharge for every prescription painkiller sold in the state, which would generate roughly $31.5 million a year to pay for first responders, substance abuse stabilization centers and state psychiatric hospitals.
Whaley also notes that she has worked to make sure Dayton’s first responders are equipped with Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose.And she wants to open the state’s emergency operations center to help respond to the crisis, and push the federal Drug Enforcement Agency should re-gain the abilityto go after prescription drug companies.
“The silver lining with the opiate epidemic is it affects every demographic of our community,” she said. “We have an opportunity to get addiction policy correct in this state. That is something we really need to put the focus on.”