April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Meeting airs county’s drug problem

AMHERST — The addict contemplating suicide. The pharmacist who had a gun pointed at his head by a robber stealing drugs. The drug rehabilitation agency head struggling to find money for treatment. The coroner dealing with the families of fatal overdose victims.

They all came together Thursday to discuss America’s escalating prescription pill and heroin addiction problem that they said is spiraling out of control. They said Lorain County and the rest of Ohio mirror the nation.

Between 1997 and last year, use of opiates in Ohio increased 1,000 percent, according to Orman Hall of the Ohio Department of Alcohol & Drug Addiction. Fatal overdoses are the leading cause of unnatural deaths in Ohio.

“This is, without question, the most serious addiction crisis in the history of our country,” Hall told about 100 people who attended the Don’t Get Me Started forum at Mercy Regional Medical Center’s Health and Recreation Center. “This is nothing like what we have seen in terms of overdose and death.”

In 2010, about 38,000 people around the nation, including 22 in Lorain County and 1,544 statewide, fatally overdosed, according to Stephen Evans, Lorain County coroner. Sixty people fatally overdosed last year in the county compared with 22 in 2011.

“It’s a crisis,” said Evans, who said the pharmaceutical industry shares some of the blame. In 2010, the pharmaceutical industry produced 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of hydrocodone, according to The Associated Press. That’s enough to supply 40 5-mg Percocets and 24 5-mg Vicodins to every person in the nation.

Enough narcotics were prescribed to provide every, man, woman and child in Lorain County with between 50 and 75 doses annually. The Senate Finance Committee last year began investigating ties among the industry, doctors and painkiller advocates and whether prescription drugs were being over-marketed for pain reduction to increase profits.

While critical of the industry, Evans said doctors who overprescribe painkillers and unsympathetic citizens also share the blame. He said many people ignore drug abuse, believing addicts are primarily from the inner city. But Evans said most of the victims he deals with are from both urban and rural areas of the county. He said most are in their 20s, but he has dealt with toddlers and some as old as 70.

“This is not homeless drug addicts who are dying,” he said. “This is mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and relatives, neighbors and relatives.”

Evans said a better-educated public will motivate politicians to spend more on treatment. The county lacks a detoxification center for addicts because of budget cuts. Hall said the Legislature needs to approve the federal Medicaid expansion that will be paid for through ObamaCare to get addicts desperately needed treatment.

Bill Doane, the Oberlin Drug Mart pharmacist robbed at gunpoint, said when he became a pharmacist in 1980 he thought the drug problem would decrease as awareness increased. But Doane said things have gotten worse with computer printers making it easier to forge prescriptions and some doctors overprescribing drugs.

“Our children are dying. Our family members are dying from this,” Doane said. “We’ve got to do something about it. It’s a jungle out there, and that’s the God’s honest truth.”

Panelists said most addicts began as children drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Then they swiped pills from their parents’ medicine cabinets. When they couldn’t afford or find pills, they switched to heroin, a cheaper high.

Recovering addict Bryan Hunkley said he chose sobriety over suicide. Hunkley, who said he has been clean and sober since 2007, said the euphoria of the high is what an addict seeks.

“You can turn on happiness in an instant,” said Hunkley, a former LaGrange resident now living in Parma Heights. “You don’t know that you’re playing with fire until it’s too late.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.