If 22 people had succumbed to the Zika virus overnight and were rushed unconscious to a hospital, you can bet people would be scrambling to respond.
If more than 50 people had been on the brink of death from Ebola over the course of five days, no expense would be spared to attack the disease.
Over the past five days, at least 50 people overdosed just in Hamilton County. What they overdosed on isn’t known for sure yet, but it likely includes fentanyl, a painkiller far more potent than heroin, and one whose abuse has spiked over the last year. They could also involve carfentanil, a tranquilizer used on horses and elephants that has made its way onto the streets here.
If these overdose victims had been rendered unconscious and near death by Zika, Ebola, or even the flu, it’s certain that money and manpower would be mobilized to eradicate it.
But they suffer from the disease of addiction, a much more complicated – and much more fatal – illness.
There's no cure or quick fix for the disease of addiction, but what’s needed is a Zika-like response. Leaders in government, law enforcement, and health care should start by treating addiction like the disease that it is, one that needs a similar mobilization of resources.
That means more money for treatment facilities and professionals. It means ensuring a better supply of naloxone, or Narcan, to first responders and emergency departments, because heroin cut with fentanyl needs more than one shot of Narcan to revive an overdose victim, so supplies dry up more quickly. It means federal and state law enforcement improving the tracking of fentanyl, so they can figure out where it's coming from and work up a more vigorous effort to keep it out of our community.
And it means that governors should use their executive powers to declare heroin emergencies in their states, a move that could immediately direct money and personnel to the problem.
These steps are needed because the usual methods aren’t working. The problem has gotten worse year by year until now it’s a full-blown catastrophe. It is a disease that's worse than Zika, worse than Ebola, and it demands a coordinated, well-funded, long-term plan of attack involving all agencies and organizations involved.
If a wake-up call was needed, the damage done over the last few days should provide it.
“I don’t think people realize how big of a problem this is,” Chief Tom Synan, co-chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, said after Tuesday night’s overdoses.
More than 50 overdoses in one county in five days shows he is right.