Brown details efforts to fight drug abuse

Sherrod Brown

In light of a drug epidemic and record 2,110 fatal overdoses in Ohio, legislators are taking action, U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown outlined his efforts to combat opioid abuse in press conference last week.

Drug related deaths now claim more American lives than car accidents. Overdoses from prescription pain relievers and heroin, “has increased dramatically due, in part, to a lack of treatment available to users and addicts,” said Brown.

In Richland County, there have been 92 deaths from drug overdoses during a five-year span from 2008 to 2013. That statistic does not include non-fatal overdoses.

“When it’s easier for Americans to access opioids than it is for them access help to treat their addiction, we have a serious problem,” Brown said. “Opioid addiction is a chronic disease that, when left untreated, places a large burden on our health care system and on our families. We must ensure that there are a variety of treatment options available for those who need help battling addiction, including effective medication-assisted treatment in combination with behavioral therapy and supports.”

The problem has not only affected the county and state-at-large, it has hit families in Bellville.

“Heroin is a terrible problem,” said Bellville Police Chief Ron Willey. “We recently had a husband and wife right here in town overdose in front of their kids.”

According to statistics provided by Brown’s office, deaths from opioid overdoses in the United States have increased by more than five times since 1980. Each year, about 475,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. are attributed to the misuse and abuse of opioid pain killers.

The problem resonates in even greater numbers among those who have served in the armed forces. According to a 2011 study from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), patients seeking care at VA clinics are nearly twice as likely to die from accidental poisonings – frequently from opioid medications – when compared with patients outside the VA health system.

“It’s shameful that the death rate is twice as high among veterans,” Brown said during the call.

He also spoke about his work on the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, legislation that provides safer and more effective pain management services veterans. The act focuses on improving VA opioid prescribing guidelines, as well as individual patient’s pain management.

Brown also spoke about a bipartisan bill he helped introduce that would allow health care providers to treat more patients who are struggling with opiate addiction.

The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (TREAT Act) would allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide supervised, medication-assisted treatment for patients. Brown hope this would allow more people to be treated for addiction.

While not concrete legislation at this point, Brown’s proposals aim to alleviate the opiate problem in Ohio through medical treatment.

In Bellville, Willey hopes to make the most out of the department’s neighborhood watch program, which is currently being used in the Durbin Avenue area to help the tightly budgeted police force.

“It’s currently working,” he said. “It’s useful for fighting drugs. People are the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods and know what should and shouldn’t be there.”