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A City Club Discussion: Ohio's Opioid Crisis

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On Friday, March 24th, we went to the City Club for a panel discussion on Ohio's opioid crisis moderated by Ms. Kay Colby, Managing Producer of Health at "Ideastream", and featuring as panelists Mr. Aaron David Marks, Recovery Advocate who once had a chemical dependency problem himself; Dr. Joan Papp, M.D., Leader of the Office of Opioid Safety at The MetroHealth System; and Sheriff John Tharp of Lucas County.

As he introduced the program, Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club CEO, said that the creed of the City Club was to be "issue agnostic" in terms of advocating for a particular side but on this matter there was no other side. We soon learned that Ohio has an opioid problem that has produced twice as many fatal overdoses as New York and three times as many as California. This might be due in part to the number of illegal pill mills here (which law enforcement has been successfully locating and shutting down as of late) and the fact that Ohio is so highway accessible.

All of the panelists agreed on the seriousness of the problem and among the ways suggested to dealing with it were longer, more comprehensive treatment plans; age-appropriate drug education for youngsters; education/awareness building for physicians regarding over-prescribing of pain killers and investigations of alternative methods of dealing with pain; and more resources directed to effective treatments-along these lines it was agreed that proposed Medicaid cutbacks would be absolutely catastrophic.

What really promised hope was the new D.A.R.T. (Drug Abuse Response Team) program initiated by Sheriff Tharp. Its mission is "to stop the profound number of deaths of loved ones caused by opiate overdoses while helping victims to overcome their addictions. To educate and support family and friends of these victims."

Sheriff Tharp (as well as the other panelists) articulately stated that this was not a problem that we can "arrest ourselves" out of by sending those afflicted with chemical dependency to jail and that we must be careful not to repeat the mistakes that we made back in the 90's when we attempted to combat the crack epidemic with increased prison sentences for users.

Taking a more progressive (we think sensible) approach, the law enforcement officers involved with D.A.R.T. will sometimes pick the overdose victim up literally from the street and take her/him to detox while maintaining "a compassionate demeanor" as they reassure and provide support for the "victim and their family across the time frame of recovery."

We didn't get to ask an official city club question on this day but privately Sheriff Tharp told us that he believed the opioid problem affected the immigrant community in equal proportion to others.

While we were at the City Club, we connected with Mr. Greg McNeil who founded "Cover2Resources" after the tragic loss of his child due to a heroin overdose.

Appropriately seated in the lobby were two representatives from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's department who were collecting unused drugs (possibly from excessive prescriptions) to be properly disposed of.