Says each community is responsible for creating local solutions with citizen groups.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine appeared in Springfield last Wednesday, February 12 to speak with local experts on the heroin and prescription pill epidemic sweeping through the state.

The Community Open Forum was held at Springfield High School, with several representatives present from local organizations aimed at treating, preventing, and analyzing Ohio’s drug abuse epidemic. DeWine said last week’s Drug Abuse Community Forum was the sixth such meeting in the state, allowing State and local leaders to come together with residents in attempt to create productive methods of curbing the epidemic.

“We have a heroin epidemic, and we have a prescription pill epidemic,” DeWine said as he addressed the crowd. “This is killing our young people,” DeWine stressed, adding that when he first began his work in public office, heroin was a problem encountered only within larger cities. “You usually wouldn’t find it in rural areas or suburbs back then, but now, it’s everywhere, and the related deaths continue to rise.”

DeWine said in 2013, nearly 900 heroin-related deaths were projected, with an equal number of deaths indirectly-relating to heroin abuse. He said most of Ohio’s heroin is imported from Mexico by numerous drug cartels.

Andrew Picek, Clark County Prosecuting Criminal Attorney, said that just a few weeks ago, a Springfield drug dealer was arrested with more than three kilograms of heroin in his possession. “You wouldn’t think Springfield to get large amounts like this, but it happens a lot,” Picek said, noting that since 2011, over one million dollars in cash has been seized from area drug dealers. “Our goal is to take down the top level dealers in Clark County,” Picek said. “We need to break that supply chain in order to be really effective.”

Danielle Smoot, Director of Cole’s Warriors, a New Carlisle-based coalition working to prevent prescription drug abuse in teens and young people, attended last week’s forum, which was held on the three-year anniversary of the passing of her son Cole, for whom the organization is named. Smoot said Attorney General DeWine, with whom she has worked with closely over the years, wore a tie bearing the colors of Cole’s favorite sports team, the Boston Red Sox. All of DeWine’s staff in attendance also wore something blue and red in honor of the late teen’s favorite team colors, as well as “John 3:16” wristbands, as the Smoot family is “very rooted in faith.”

Smoot said DeWine’s camp had originally prepared a poster of Cole to present at the end of the Community Open Forum in remembrance of his life and death, yet were not able to do so in the interest of time.

Dr. Kent Youngman, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board serving Clark, Greene, and Madison counties attended the forum as a panelist. Youngman recognized the dangers of Ohio’s heroin epidemic, but said that Clark County has seen a dramatic increase in prescription pill abuse.

Youngman said between the years of 2006 and 2012, the number of Clark County residents being treated for an opiate problem rose by more than 55 percent, and that half of the individuals being treated at McKinley Hall were suffering from an opiate addiction.

“In Clark County, the prescribing patterns have not changed,” Youngman said. “Between October and December of 2013, and this is not a misprint, there were 2,780,843 doses of opiate pain pills prescribed in Clark County alone,” Youngman said, repeating the data once more so that it could sink in. “That’s enough for every man, woman, and child in our three counties to have 88 doses each.” Dr. Youngman said a high correlation exists between obesity and prescription pain pill abuse, as doctors often prescribe painkillers for skeletal or muscular pain stemming from obesity instead of recommending their patient go on a different diet or develop an exercise routine.

Orman Hall, Director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, said doctors walk a fine line in terms of treating genuine, crippling pain and over-prescribing when not necessary. “Our doctors need to be re-educated on prescribing for chronic pain,” Hall said, adding that the United States, which occupies 4.5 percent of the world’s population, uses more than 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone supply, and 61 percent of the world’s opiate cache.

Attorney General DeWine asked Pat Banszak, Director of Family and Youth Initiatives, what programs she and Smoot had implemented in Clark County that had provided positive results. Banaszak said education had proven to be key among preventing drug abuse in youths, and that she and Smoot will continue to work together with Cole’s Warriors and Clark County High School students in spreading the message about the effects of substance abuse problems.