Ohio lawmakers demand Gov. Kasich declare a heroin emergency

Three more Ohio legislators have joined the call for emergency action on the heroin crisis.

State legislators from Columbus, Akron and a suburb of Cleveland today called on Gov. Kasich to declare a statewide public health emergency over the drug epidemic, a move that could immediately free up money and personnel to help save lives and stop the flow of drugs into communities.

Their call comes a few days after state Rep. Denise Driehaus, a Cincinnati Democrat, urged Kasich to declare a statewide emergency and to free up $400 million from the state’s budget surplus to respond to an unprecedented string of drug overdoses in Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere.

Editorial: Governor, declare a heroin emergency

Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann and Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld last week also called on Kasich to declare an emergency and use money from the surplus to bring immediate help to Cincinnati and other communities besieged by heroin and its deadlier cousin, fentanyl.   

Their calls come as Greater Cincinnati families, police, paramedics and hospital workers respond to a spike in overdoses: 174 reported in six days. An unknown number have gone unreported.

Similar outbreaks have happened elsewhere: In three weeks in July, paramedics in Akron responded to 236 overdoses.

Today, Reps. Nickie J. Antonio (D-Lakewood), Greta Johnson (D-Akron) and Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), held a press conference to say they will introduce a resolution urging Kasich to declare the crisis a statewide emergency. They also called for a joint House-Senate conference to craft legislation to address the epidemic.

The lawmakers' calls also come after a WCPO.com editorial, first published in May, urged Kasich to declare a state of emergency over the growing drug crisis. The editorial suggested, as the lawmakers have noted, that the state could use some of its $2 billion-plus Rainy Day Fund, a surplus of tax dollars, to pay for a rapid emergency response.

A Cleveland-area mother, Camelia Carter, started a change.org petition in June after her son died of an overdose. That petition currently has more than 11,000 signatures.

The spike has drawn attention to a problem that has been growing for years. Last week, the Ohio Department of Health reported that 3,050 Ohioans died from an overdose or another opioid. That's a 20 percent increase from the year before.

So far, all the state legislators who have called for an emergency are Democrats, and appear to be trying to outflank Kasich and other Republicans on a high-profile issue. But the crisis is beyond politics as families are suffering and first responders, hospitals and jails are inundated.

In fact, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is a Republican from New Hampshire, in November called for a national state of emergency on the drug crisis. She and Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati Republican, cosponsored comprehensive legislation that would improve drug treatment and education and expand access to the overdose antidote naloxone. The legislation had broad bipartisan support and was signed by President Obama in July.

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