Editorial: How many more victims will the heroin epidemic claim?

Editorial: How many more victims will the heroin epidemic claim?
Posted at 10:00 AM, Mar 01, 2017

What will it take?

How many more have to die?

Our community suffered another spike in drug overdose deaths in the last few days. On Monday, Hamilton County officials, rightly, stood up and alerted the public about it and what appears to be new concoctions of deadly drugs on the streets.

This time, they’re not sure what's out there but, whatever it is, it's killing more people than usual. 

There was a clear sense of frustration on the part of local officials. It was only a few months ago that members of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition alerted the public to a surge of fentanyl and carfentanil, drugs far more deadly than heroin.

“I’m frustrated that we’re up here again,” said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, a coalition member. “It’s about time that we change how we do this.”

It’s beyond time.

While the death toll grows, our community and others respond the best they can with the resources they have. It’s not adequate.

The heroin and opiate problem is not something that breaks out from time to time with an occasional spike in overdoses. It’s been growing steadily for 10 years or more. And yet we keep using the same approach. Clearly, it’s not enough.

From 2010 to 2015, drug overdose deaths in Ohio doubled, from 1,544 to 3,050, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

“We need to revamp how we look at this issue,” Synan said. “It needs to stop being a criminal issue and it needs to go to a medical issue.”

We agree.

We’ve called on Gov. John Kasich to declare a statewide emergency to immediately direct money and manpower to communities to fight the problem.

PLEASE READ: Editorial: Governor, declare a heroin emergency

We’ve called on our hospital systems to take the lead and create an organized, systematic and, above all, medical approach to the problem.

PLEASE READ: Editorial: Hospitals need to lead on heroin

We’re repeating those calls now, louder and more urgently.

Last year at this time, 49 people had died in Hamilton County from heroin or another drug. This year to date, 94 have died, nearly double the rate from a year ago.

“That’s a pretty alarming number,” said Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, the county coroner.

Yes, it is.

There’s more reason for alarm.

About 100 children in this county are “opiate orphans,” kids in need of homes after their parents overdosed and died. They’re now in the care of the county at a time when funding for the county’s Job and Family Services department has been cut roughly in half over the last 10 years.

“The opiate crisis is leaving children as the unheard victims,” Sammarco said.

There will be more kids orphaned by heroin. There will be more moms burying their children who overdosed and died.

The question is: How many more?

How many more will die before we respond with the scale and resources needed to turn the tide?

The state of Ohio is sitting on a surplus of more than $2 billion. Our hospitals enjoy billion-dollar budgets.

It is time for much more of that money to be directed to our community’s most deadly public health problem, the drug epidemic.

For more on our community's response to the drug epidemic, please go to Heroin: How Do We Respond?

Watch the entire Monday news conference below.