Democratic lawmakers from the Ohio House and Senate held a press conference today pushing for legislative action to combat the worsening statewide opioid emergency. Senate Democratic Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and state Reps. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood), Denise Driehaus (D-Cincinnati) and Greta Johnson (D-Akron) pushed for the legislature and the governor to finish work on Senate Bill (SB) 319, opioid and heroin omnibus legislation that the Senate passed before the summer recess but has since stalled in the House.

“Senate Bill 319— which helps decrease the availability of opioids throughout Ohio— is a good piece of legislation, and I was proud to support it,” said Schiavoni. “However, we know there is much more work to be done. Communities have experienced a troubling number of overdoses this summer. The public is calling for action, and it’s time we equip them with the resources they need to fight this epidemic.”

The Dem lawmakers’ call to action comes as data recently released by the Ohio Department of Health shows that drug overdoses killed a record 3,050 people – an average of eight each day – in the state last year. As part of the push for immediate action, state Reps. Johnson and Driehaus recently introduced legislation urging the governor to declare the opioid epidemic a statewide emergency and to divert additional state funds to local efforts aimed at prevention, treatment and law enforcement. In an unrelated emergency declaration for the Republican National Committee’s 2016 Cleveland Convention, the legislature approved $9 million in emergency funds Monday to pay extra first responders that were on hand for the political convention.

“Communities throughout our state are doing everything in their power to fight back against opioid use and overdoses, but without active partnership and a sense of urgency from the state, we risk losing ground,” said Driehaus. “We have a duty and obligation to press pause on politics and campaigns to get back to the unfinished work we were elected to do. There are meaningful measures that lawmakers can act on now and in the future to have a real and positive impact on communities struggling with opioid abuse and overdoses.”

The drug addiction and abuse epidemic also recently reached new and terrifying heights in southwest Ohio, where heroin – possibly spiked with carfentanil, a synthetic opiate painkiller used to care for large wildlife animals such as elephants – was responsible for 174 overdoses in one week, some 78 of which hit the community in a span of only 48 hours.

“As opioid overdoses and deaths continue to skyrocket all across the state, local communities are struggling to meet the demands of what has quickly turned into a state of emergency,” said Johnson. “In light of this grim reality, state leaders and elected officials must put politics aside and use every tool immediately at our disposal to confront this public health emergency head-on, in a unified way. And the first step in doing that is to call the opioid epidemic what it is: a statewide emergency.”

Introduced this spring, SB 319 received widespread praise from numerous medical and provider organizations, including the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers and the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities. 

“Treatment providers, law enforcement and those on the front lines of this epidemic are working tirelessly to prevent more families from losing loved ones to opioid-related deaths,” said Antonio. “But, the legislature must do its part as well. Ohio’s families cannot wait for election season to end – the legislature should continue working on SB 319 to strengthen it so we can better fight back against the growing opioid emergency.” 

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The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences released the report “Taking Measure of Ohio’s Opioid Crisis” Tuesday, highlighting the grim realities many in the state are experiencing, but also making a case for greater treatment access and expanded educational and economic opportunities for Ohioans.

“This report confirms that treatment is necessary to stem the tide of this opioid crisis, and clearly we do not have enough treatment options currently available,” said Antonio. “We can do better. We must do better. Taxpayers deserve better economic opportunities, a strong and affordable educational foundation, and greater access to healthcare services – all things that we know will prevent opioid addiction and abuse.”

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