Editorial Roundup: Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Spike in drug deaths must be reversed

Akron Beacon Journal

Feb. 15

Together, they would have filled about eight classrooms. All 198 had mothers, fathers, loved ones and people who cared about them. Yet, they all died in 2019 from accidental drug overdoses in Summit County alone.

The county’s four-year total now stands at 948, including 341 in 2016, 270 the following year and nearly half that amount with 139 in 2018. A 43% increase after two years of improvement qualifies as bad news.

The 948 would fill a decent-size high school.

So, if you thought we had gained some measure of control over highly addictive prescription painkillers and rampant drug abuse, think again. In Columbus, 34 suspected overdose deaths in 10 days almost required opening a temporary morgue earlier this month.

Drug users are looking for and finding new ways to get high, frequently with meth, which is now often unknowingly tainted with deadly synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil. Meth, and meth mixed with synthetic opiates, contributed to 39% of deaths last year.

There’s just no way to know what’s really in street drugs.

The good news is Summit County’s 2019 settlement in a federal opioid case with 11 makers and three distributors of pain pills led to a recent $104 million deposit in Summit County’s bank account. Summit and Cuyahoga County blamed the companies for fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic by oversupplying highly addictive prescription pain pills but settled before their bellwether case went to trial.

There’s also an apparent statewide financial settlement with the same companies and store pharmacies that sold opiates. Summit’s lawsuit against the pharmacies is still pending, meaning any deal would produce additional dollars. The county also can order free medications to assist in its battle. Legal fees still must be subtracted.

How the money can help fight this scourge now takes center stage and will appropriately be reviewed by an advisory council consisting of leaders from across the county. They’re focused on funding four areas, including treatment, harm reduction tools such as naloxone, coordinating efforts across the county and evidence-based prevention.

Any expenditure of more than $50,000 must be approved by Summit County Council.

From our perspective, this war can only be won by taking the long-term approach to educating future adults about the dangers of drugs. In this age where many of us fret about the ingredients in our food, how do others ignore deadly warning signs and consume drugs that could contain literally anything?

Addiction could start with one hit, depending on the user’s genetics and family history. It’s a medical condition, not a lifestyle choice.

We should help those who need to overcome addiction. We also must drastically reduce the flow of new cases before more people die and the money eventually runs out.

We need parents and grandparents talking to their kids. We need local leaders making smart decisions with this once-in-a-lifetime funding. And we need our federal government to step up and ensure this fiasco is never repeated.

Online: https://bit.ly/2vHrKmC

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Key meeting for future of Stark County NAACP

The Canton Repository

Feb. 16

Earlier this month, Willis Gordon, a local entertainer and rising political activist, posted on his Facebook page the ages various Democratic and Republican political leaders in Washington will attain at their next birthdays.

The youngest on his list, Elizabeth Warren, will turn 71; Nancy Pelosi will celebrate her 80th year on earth. President Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell fall within that span. Not on his list but worth adding: Potential Democratic presidential nominee Mike Bloomberg turned 78 on Friday.

“Perhaps we should trust generational change to some people who will actually be alive to see the effects of their policies. We can’t keep trying to solve 21st century problems with 20th century solutions,” Willis wrote. “Somebody has to take the wheel here; our current setup is totally unsustainable.”

Only a few days removed from that post, Willis found himself approached about taking the wheel of the Stark County chapter of the NAACP. Maybe he will get the opportunity; maybe it’s not quite his time.

The organization will meet Tuesday evening, at its regular monthly meeting at the Goodwill Campus in Canton, to discuss its future amid news its current president, Deborah Shamlin, needs to step aside, at least temporarily, to deal with a health issue.

We wish Shamlin nothing but the best in her recovery.

Under her leadership, the NAACP has become a tenant at the Goodwill Campus, with a lease through 2021. We see that as a positive step. We also credit Shamlin with improving relations between city residents and members of the Canton Police Department.

Chief Jack Angelo and city Safety Director Angela Perry were guests at a well-attended chapter meeting in 2019, where they explained some of the issues confronting law enforcement and steps being taken to continue making progress in the community.

NAACP bylaws say the presidency first must be offered to one of the chapter’s vice presidents. Angela Walls Alexander (first vice president), Dr. Margaret Egbert (second vice president) and the Rev. Philip Moore (third vice president) were elected as part of the slate of candidates when Shamlin was re-elected in December 2018.

Whether one of the vice presidents or Willis or someone else takes the reins of the organization, it will be vital that person builds on the foundation Shamlin has set in place. Especially important this year will be voting in the primary and general elections. (Reminder: the deadline to register for the March 17 primary is Tuesday!) This fall, voters will select our president, legislative representation in both Washington and Columbus and some judges.

State Rep. Tom West, 2018 congressional candidate Ken Harbaugh, Willis and newly seated Akron Councilman Shammas Malik will be leading a “get out the vote” effort Feb. 29 in our community. We encourage others to participate.

Willis also has been at the forefront in imploring members of our Stark County community to join the NAACP and to get more involved. “We do a lot of talking about stepping up and leading from the front. Let’s be about it,” he wrote to friends in a social media post.

We agree that membership in the civil rights organization is one of the best ways to address concerns about education and equity in our schools, economic opportunity for all, social justice and equal rights and treatment regardless of one’s race, status, political party or income.

When the Stark County chapter of the NAACP meets Tuesday at Goodwill Campus, a body should fill every chair. (It should be that way every month.) The immediate and long-term future of the organization demands active and vibrant participation.

Online: https://bit.ly/37Bw43V

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Opioid healing begins with shared settlement

The Columbus Dispatch

Feb. 16

The opioid crisis that began to take hold in Ohio more than a quarter-century ago won’t be over soon. Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz made that clear Tuesday when she said that, after years of ever-growing effort to fight the scourge, the rate of people in Franklin County dying of drug overdose is at its highest level ever.

This fact highlights how important it is for Gov. Mike DeWine and state Attorney General Dave Yost to seal a deal with city attorneys, county prosecutors and their outside lawyers on how to share in an eventual settlement with the makers and distributors of the drugs that kickstarted the catastrophe.

The sooner the state and local governments can present a unified front in litigation, the sooner settlement money can begin flowing to pay for addiction treatment and prevention; help foster parents and children services agencies caring for the tens of thousands of children effectively orphaned by their parents’ addiction; cover increased police, emergency and health care costs and many other costs than even can be reckoned.

The greatest cost, of course, is incalculable: the loss of thousands of lives every year to overdose; the lost potential for thousands more who struggle with addiction; and the heartbreak of loved ones who live with the wreckage.

The appalling numbers outlined by Ortiz are counter to the statewide trend for 2018. Following steep jumps every year since 2014, the rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 people statewide dropped dramatically in 2018, by 22.7%. Montgomery and Summit counties saw drops of 47% and 46%.

In Franklin County, however, the number of deaths rose by 10%. The rise appears to have continued in Franklin County in 2019, with a 15% jump year over year for January through September, as those initially addicted to opioid painkillers turn to deadly fentanyl.

On Tuesday, Ortiz said she suspects overdoses were the cause of 34 deaths over a 10-day period that ended Feb. 9 — a rate that, if it continued, would more than double Franklin County’s 2018 toll of 476. Ortiz called it the most fatal 10-day period in Franklin County since the opioid crisis developed, and it has her thinking of creating temporary extra morgue space to handle such surges.

The carnage prompted the city and county health departments on Wednesday to hand out free doses of naloxone, the overdose-reversing drug known by the brand name Narcan, at several locations across the city.

At such times of acute crisis, Narcan and plenty of it is the appropriate first response, as it can prevent an otherwise imminent death. Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Health, told The Dispatch in August that both Montgomery and Summit counties had success with what he called a comprehensive approach: “That consists of prevention, of early intervention, of effective treatment (and) blanketing the community with naloxone.”

If the state and local officials succeed in negotiating a substantial master settlement — some estimate it could be as high as $1 billion — communities will be able do more of all those things. Beyond the immediate need to prevent as many deaths as possible, they’ll have funding to address the longer-term fallout, not least in caring for children.

A preliminary report released Feb. 5 by the Children Services Transformation Advisory Council, appointed by DeWine last fall to recommend reforms to the system, mentions as priorities: reducing caseloads for caseworkers; giving more of a say to foster parents and more support for kinship (family other than parents) caregivers; and focusing on permanent homes for kids whose parents’ addictions could leave them in foster care for years.

DeWine pushed lawmakers to more than double funding for children services in the 2020-21 budget to more than $220 million. That is commendable, but the needs of these children — as well as first responders, Medicaid, agencies for the homeless, job-training groups and all the other systems affected by addiction — are bottomless.

We urge DeWine, Yost and all the other lawyers at the table to keep these needs in mind as they finish up negotiations on how to approach a settlement. We hope the leadership from the state will minimize the amount paid to private attorneys to leave as much as possible available to help the public.

Ohio has a long way to go to reach real recovery — if indeed addiction levels ever can return to what they were before the advent of OxyContin and all that followed. What is certain is that those who set the match to this inferno should be held responsible for putting it out, and the recompense should be distributed fairly according to need.

Online: https://bit.ly/37zSF0N

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To Ohio Department of Health: End the silly secrecy, give the public useful information about the coronavirus

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Feb. 16

The folks at the Ohio Department of Health evidently have forgotten who they are paid to serve. How else can the department justify its otherwise inexplicable failure to provide Ohioans with information they want – and might need – to take precautions related to the coronavirus.

We certainly concur with the department’s stated desire to protect the privacy of people who are being tested for the highly contagious virus, and if confirmed cases should emerge in Ohio, the privacy of people whose tests prove positive.

That privacy argument, however, is nothing but an evasion.

No one is asking the department for the names, addresses and phone numbers of sick people. But people do want to know – and deserve to be told – if someone in their county is being tested or has tested positive.

And what about the age and gender of patients? That is information that the public might find useful in better understanding who is at the highest risk, and the release of such information in no way breaches the privacy of any patients.

Yet the state health department provides none of that information, and in fact has told local health departments to join in keeping secrets from the public by not confirming or denying suspected cases.

The only information the department feels obliged to publicly share is the number of possible cases, confirmed cases and negative tests. And the department only updates its numbers on Tuesdays and Thursdays with 2 p.m. postings on its website.

The latest posting reports no confirmed cases, no people being tested and five tests that have come back as negative. But that information is now 40 hours or more old, and that is inexcusable in the era when real-time reporting is possible.

This lack of timely information might well undercut public confidence in the state's pronouncements, which in turn could be very damaging to efforts to encourage timely preventative actions.

What seems to be behind the secrecy is an attempt to keep people from panicking. To describe that motivation as misguided is too charitable. Orwellian would be a more accurate description.

Bruce Hennes, a Cleveland-based crisis management and crisis communication specialist, told cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock this week that people “ought to be concerned” about the coronavirus and the health department is “depriving people the ability to take precautions.”

We are confident that Gov. Mike DeWine does not like hearing that kind of talk about his health department. We also are confident that a simple directive from him would quickly fix this problem. So, governor, what are you waiting for?

Online: https://bit.ly/2ww8yc5