With opioid crisis centre stage, Ohio sues Oxycotin and Percocet drug-makers

Dayton: Ohio, a bellwether for American elections in general and the Rust Belt in particular, has in the course of the past month become a single-issue state. 

With the gubernatorial field filling in for next year’s election for Governor that field has made it plain that the only issue in the state to address is the overdose epidemic, and nothing else. It’s a crowded field, motivated to run based on the opioid epidemic that has killed thousands in the state, and touched many candidates in personal ways that is highly unusual in this time of urban-rural and red-blue divide. 

Ohio Attorney-General Mike DeWine​, one of those candidates, announced on Tuesday the state was suing five pharmaceutical manufacturers of opioid pain medication, the makers of pills such as Oxycontin and Percocet​.

Many of these drugs were marketed as being non-addictive alternatives to other pain medication. Doctors prescribed them under this assumption, according to DeWine, and the results are 25,000 dead in 2015 alone from opioid overdoses in the United States. In Ohio, 21,000 have died in 10 years. Last year saw deaths and overdoses hit a record, the numbers are expected to more than double in 2017

This has turned the Ohio governor’s race into what we may never see again in a major state – candidates campaigning on an issue that’s not only the most pertinent to the state, but one that has put them through personal hell. 

Dayton-area politicians Nan Whaley, the Democratic mayor of the city, and Jon Husted, Ohio’s current Secretary of State, have both been hit by the epidemic personally. 

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“I wish I only knew one,” Husted told the Dayton Daily News when he announced his candidacy in early May, declining further details.

Whaley announced her candidacy the same day, revealing a child she used to babysit had died at 24 due to an opioid overdose as among those close to her.

On Wednesday, current Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, who has been part of Governor John Kasich’s office for both of his terms, shockingly revealed in an interview her two sons have both been battling opioid addiction for several years, going as far as 2011. 

The Taylor family struggles were well known in the Kasich administration, but had been locked tight from the public until she revealed them on Wednesday in the Dayton Daily News. While Taylor had business as the second-most powerful person in the state, she dealt with discovering her oldest son’s drug problem, and had to rush from Columbus to Cincinnati to get him to a treatment centre.

The family discovered their second son’s drug issue when he overdosed and crashed his car in the family driveway. As an ambulance rushed him away, he told his father to tell the medics not to give him any medication, he already had enough. 

Taylor’s sons overdosed twice at home, and two other times an ambulance was called to their house. The experience was so traumatic Taylor couldn’t isolate one incident from the other.

“I don’t know that you could say that one thing was worse than another,” Taylor said. “I know people who have lost kids, I’ve been to the funeral of a young person who died of a heroin overdose. Until we found treatment that worked, the voice of worry was very loud and very scary.”

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As of 2015, most deaths related to opioid overdoses were related to prescription medicine. Just over 60 per cent of opioid deaths in the US that year were from prescription pills, according to the Centres for Disease Control. Heroin and Fentanyl have cut into that number dramatically since 2011.

But while headlines are often mentioning heroin and Fentanyl, pills continue to be a major factor in the epidemic.

Generally middle-age working class and middle-class blue-collar workers are the most likely to get hooked followed by young athletes in their late teens and early 20s. It starts with an injury in the workplace for the middle-aged, turns into using painkillers to maintain work or deal with the day-to-day living with an injury.

When the prescription is cut off, the addicted seek other forms of relief, usually heroin. The demand is so high, dealers began cutting heroin with Fentanyl, a more powerful opioid that is cheaper and widely available, and is legal in some cases. 

These people aren’t seeking the high one would generally get from recreational use, but the ability to feel normal, what many doctors say is the worst type of addiction. They seek to go through the day without debilitating pain, which is often made worse when withdrawal begins. 

Fentanyl is the drug that killed Prince.

Mixing heroin and Fentanyl together is a fatal practice if it isn’t mixed as a liquid. If they are both in solid form, any combination will leave hot spots, parts of the mix that are higher in levels in Fentanyl than others, and are usually deadly.

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Dealers, police and state law enforcement know this.

Gubernatorial candidates have been discussing of charging dealers for manslaughter if they are caught mixing Fentanyl with heroin and selling it to customers.

Whaley has already chided Republican lawmakers for not suing pharmaceutical companies or dealing with the issue more aggressively.

Most candidates have acknowledged the loss of manufacturing jobs, due to off-shoring and globalisation, has contributed heavily to the epidemic, creating a “crisis of despair” described by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton – the sense life is bad and isn’t getting better.