From rural to urban areas, our state’s heroin addiction problem is an epidemic that affects every community throughout Ohio. There is an answer as to why we have such a terrible problem with heroin in our state.

Our medical system utilizes five vital signs to measure a patient’s level of health.  These signs include: temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and pain level.  Following a federal push in the 1990s to add pain as the fifth vital sign, numerous states passed legislation to ensure chronic pain was being treated effectively. Shortly after these reforms, the addition of direct consumer marketing and the introduction of new pain medications resulted in the increased utilization of prescription opioids.

Ohio went from having 80 million doses of prescription opioids dispensed in 2003 to 822 million doses dispensed in 2013. As these medications became more accessible, the number of drug overdoses increased. This increase is almost directly correlated with the number of doses being dispensed. In 2013, Ohio had 2110 unintentional overdose deaths. 70% of these overdoses were caused by opioids, and opioid related overdoses increased by 332 from 2012. Recently, drug overdose became the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio. You are more likely to die from a drug overdose than a car accident. 

You might be asking how a prescription medication has anything to do with people using heroin. Heroin and prescription opioids share a common chemical composition and ultimately have the same effect on the human body. Due to the similarities in chemical composition, and for economic reasons, a prescription opioid addiction can lead to heroin use. Individuals with an addiction do not begin their addiction by using heroin, but heroin use is a symptom of a much later phase of the same addiction. These prescription medications, which come directly from our medical system, have built a bridge over the moat that once surrounded heroin.

Due to the complex nature of the issue, the General Assembly has attempted to combat the addiction epidemic in a number of different ways. We have passed legislation that requires minors to get parental consent when being prescribed an opioid, increases penalties against drug dealers that sell drugs to pregnant women, includes opioid addiction education in health classes, develops statewide awareness days, closes pill mills, prevents doctor shopping, raises the standard practices in home hospice care, increases access to overdose reversing medication, increases access to integrated treatment, and targets resources more efficiently into communities where there is a need. We will continue to combat the opioid addiction epidemic, but we need everyone’s help.

As part of the overall approach, we named the first Friday in May as “Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness and Education Day.” Please talk to your friends and family about the dangers associated with abusing opioids, because you can save a life.

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