Drug czar comes to southern Ohio

Published 10:09 am Thursday, July 14, 2011

On Sunday evening, 10 July 2011, Director Gil Kerlikowske of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) visited Portsmouth and hosted a town hall-style discussion on prescription drug abuse.

Fittingly, the meeting was held in the auditorium of the newly dedicated Second Chance Center, a facility that offers hope for people recovering from addiction.

Invited to sit on the panel with the Director of ONDCP were U.S. Senator Rob Portman, U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Chief Ken Parker, Ohio Attorney General Mike Dewine, Director of Ohio’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Orman Hall, Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Aaron Adams, and me.

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The auditorium of the Second Chance Center was packed. Interested folks came from near and far.

Our local Prescription Drug Action Team was well represented with many members in the audience, as well as a number of people from our Surviving Our Loss and Continuing Everyday (SOLACE) group.

After a welcome by Dr. Adams, Orman Hall, the master of ceremonies for the evening, introduced the panelists, starting with Director Kerlikowske.

Kerlikowske praised our local efforts to fight this problem, which he says is spreading to all parts of America at an alarming rate. He said that our problem has gained national attention, and what we are doing to fight back is an inspiration to the entire nation.

Attorney General Mike Dewine also applauded the efforts of our local citizens, and introduced former Adams County Prosecutor Aaron Haslam, lauding his efforts as a prosecutor focused on attacking the criminal aspects of the drug problem. Dewine has built a team around Haslam; pursuing these cases is their only task.

Dewine pledged continued support from his office, calling the prescription drug problem a scourge that must be ended.

Sen. Rob Portman spoke, providing an update on his efforts to help local and state officials obtain federal grants, to facilitate communication across state lines, and on his efforts to establish a national drug reporting system that will make Ohio’s current data base much more effective at stopping “doctor shoppers” and “pill mills.”

He also offered encouraging words on the possibility of bringing our local area under a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) designation, which could bring much needed resources to bear.

What the senator said was so important because that sort of federal help and interstate cooperation will be crucial in the months to come.

Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Aaron Adams, a central leader in our local fight who gained nationwide attention when he declared the prescription drug abuse problem in Scioto County a “public health emergency,” spoke passionately about where the struggle has been and where it needs to go.

He talked about his concern for the proliferation of prescription drug use by our youth, especially in high school, and the explosion of hepatitis-C infection from needle based drug abuse.

Dr. Adams served on Governor Strickland’s Rx Drug Abuse Task Force and has been a strong leader locally and throughout the state.

I also spoke.

As I always do in such opportunities, I emphasized that our successes, which have been many, have only come because we have risen up as a community; that we must continue to see our efforts in the context of a disciplined team and that we must realize that lasting success will come from the recognition that the mission is bigger than any one person.

We must continue to lock arms and move forward together.

I praised the national director for seeing the problem holistically: It is complex and defies simple solutions and must be attacked on many fronts. I thanked everyone in the crowd for being involved, and challenged them to reach out to our youth by coaching and mentoring and stepping up for leadership in positive groups like 4-H and Scouts.

I called out Dr. Darren Adams, my successor as county coroner, and lifted up the important work he is doing with mapping and data collection of drug fatalities. I praised our own Al Oliver for his creative “Get On Base, Not On Drugs” Little League patch, and encouraged others to emulate his example.

We must do all we can to keep our youngsters from falling prey to this evil thing.

I pointed out that media attention to our problem is a necessary thing, but that I hope the media will report with equal zeal the progress we are making. I told the group how proud I am of them, and how much I love them and my community.

And I attributed all of our successes to God, and asked those who were praying to pray more often—and harder!

I see this as nothing less than an all-important battle to heal our community.

We must make this wonderful place, so rich in history and so full of potential, well again.

We have to acknowledge that even though we have been severely tested, we should count our blessings and realize that all could be worse, and will become worse, unless we continue to take charge and do all we can to help ourselves.

What has happened to us in this prescription drug crisis is nothing short of a calamity. Out of this one problem has come far too much misery for one small area to bear.

And yet we are strong.

We are fighting back. And I for one refuse to lose hope.

Dr. Terry A. Johnson is the State Representative for Ohio’s 89th District, which includes the western part of Lawrence County.