In an attempt to foster more dialogue on the statewide, nationwide and local impact of the opiate addiction epidemic, Madison County leaders hosted a forum Wednesday evening to answer questions community members might have.
Organized at London High School by Mayor Pat Closser, the goal for the event was to foster communication between all members of the community to bring more knowledge out into the public but also end some of the stigmas related to addiction.
“I wanted to put this community conversation together for several different reasons,” he said. “First I believe that a lot of people here in Madison County want help and just don’t know how to get it from all the different resources we have. And second, we’re all affected somehow and some way by this epidemic.”
Community groups set up tables with information on addiction recovery and mental health services to combat the effects of the epidemic.
At around 6 p.m. Madison County officials and community leaders hosted an informational session to solicit questions county residents had.
A mass epidemic
While the epidemic is huge, it wasn’t always as large an issue. Dr. Jim Carr, Madison County coroner explained the origins from the ’90s.
“In 1995, Altram was approved by the FDA and was marketed as non-addictive. I was a resident at that time. In 1996, Oxycontin was approved by the FDA,” he said. “And if you’re a drug company, how do you get people to use your drug?…You get your state senators to pass laws saying you have to prescribe them.”
Ohio’s Intractable Pain Treatment Act, passed in 1997 which gave doctors legal immunity from writing pain prescriptions and put provisions that patients could be sued for not prescribing pain medication.
The issue was, these pain medications proved to be addictive.
He then displayed a chart which showed overdoses and deaths related to opioids increasing as people became addicted to the supposedly non-addictive drugs.
According to Carr, in 2009 overdose deaths became more common than deaths due to car accidents.
Dr. Carr said over the last few years, he’s seen it increase.
“In 2015 I investigated 30 deaths; six of those were drug related. In 2016, I investigated another 30 deaths; nine of those were drug related. So far I’ve investigated 17 deaths, seven of those have been drug related,” he said.
Madison County Public Health Commissioner Chris Cook provided further statistics.
One in nine opioid deaths nationwide occurred in Ohio.
“This is not what you want to see about Ohio. In the Columbus Dispatch, [there was an article with the headline] ‘Ohio leads nation in overdose deaths,’” said Cook. “This was in 2016.”
In 2015, there were about 3,000 deaths statewide. In 2016 that increased almost 4,000.
“The percentage of overdose deaths involving an opioid is 86 percent,” said Cook.
Based on the data, the local rate of death due to overdose in Madison County was 15 per 100,000 people from 2010 through 2015.
Overdoses overall, not just those resulting in death have steadily increased since 2012, starting at 59 before dropping in 2013 to 49.
It increased again in 2014 to 58. 2015 saw a jump to 86, followed by 96 in 2016.
“In 2017, we’ve had 68 and it’s May,” he said.
Before the panel, Closser solicited questions from attendees for the community leaders in attendance.
Some questions were fairly common.
• Is addiction a disease?
Dr. Greta Mayer of the Mental Health Recovery Board of Madison, Clark and Greene Counties gave a resounding yes.
Human bodies produce a chemical called dopamine, which essentially rewards the body with a pleasurable response for doing certain things such as eating or intercourse. Naturally we are drawn to actions that give this response.
Drugs, however, surge the body with it, creating massive cravings in some people giving them an unhealthy attachment.
During her presentation, she showed diagrams comparing healthy brains to the addicted brain. The addicted brain was lumpy, misshapen and full of holes, showing some sort of internal sickness.
• How do we get doctors to stop over-prescribing?
Judge Eamon Costello said that regulations were already being put into place along with doctors prescribing less.
“In defense of doctors, a lot of them were prescribing drugs like Oxycontin under misperceptions that they were non-addictive, when they turned out to be terrifically addictive,” he said.
Carr argued to get physicians involved in the transition away from opiates, lest unlicensed pain doctors get involved or people continue to resort to heroin for pain or addiction issues.
• How do we help fight the rise in heroin addicts?
Closser encouraged people who have information on local dealers to report them.
“At the vigil [during the winter], I warned people about living by ‘the street code,’” he said. “No snitching. Well, that can come around and when somebody you love gets hurt you’re going to regret it.”
The London Police accepts any and all tips.
“Just tell somebody, call the police department,” he said. “The police department has the MyPD app [for smartphones], where you can anonymously give a tip. Or call me, call the sheriff. You won’t say who the people were who told us at the sporting event or at parks are doing illegal stuff. Just let somebody know.”
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.