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State Democratic leaders call on the governor for help in opiate epidemic

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Posted at 12:50 PM, Sep 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 08:49:20-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- State Rep. Greta Johnson, D-Akron, walked up to the podium in the Ohio statehouse Wednesday and repeated her statement four times:

"Today, two or three people are going to die from overdoses in Summit County."

Johnson, along with other leaders in the state Democratic minority caucus, described the “opioid overdose epidemic" they were seeing across the state and called on Gov. John Kasich and state Republicans to help provide funding to combat the situation.

Among the calls for action were for Kasich to declare a state of emergency to use the state’s rainy day fund. This is a move WCPO's editorial board has been calling for since May.

RELATED EDITORIAL: Gov. Kasich, save lives and declare the heroin epidemic a state emergency

Suggestions for ways to use the money were to open up beds in local hospitals and pay for Narcan doses, which can cost $33 dollars per dose for emergency departments.

“All we’re asking is for the governor to be a partner in all of this," said Rep. Denise Driehaus, a Democrat from Cincinnati. "I’m not asking the state to use the entire rainy day fund to combat this, but if $300 million of the rainy day fund could be pushed down to be utilized at the local level, even that would be beneficial." 

Driehaus also said that the biennium state budget -- which has yet to pass through the Ohio House of Representatives -- could easily add provisions to provide training at the local level to treat overdose victims.

“We need more resources on the ground," Senate Democratic Leader Joe Schiavoni said. "It wouldn’t take care of everything in a minute or solve all of our problems, but we need to be faster with this.” 

Hamilton County hospital emergency workers have treated over 1,004 overdose cases since July, according to Hamilton County Public Health's EpiCenter surveillance system.

Kasich spokesperson Emmalee Kalmbach said Wednesday afternoon that, although it is possible for the governor to declare a state of emergency, he does not have the power to allocate funds to a specific crisis unless legislation is passed by state congress.

Liam Niemeyer is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at liamnmeyer@gmail.com.