A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
As cleveland.com’s Gretchen Kuda Croen recently reported, modeling suggests that a tidal wave of drug overdose deaths is coming – to Ohio and the nation. And with Ohio, the seventh most populous state, ranked No. 4 in drug overdose deaths in 2020, there’s little doubt that the state and region will again be in the eye of this tragic storm.
Those are horrific facts which looming circumstances may worsen — and which demand preventive action now.
Getting ahead of this scourge means understanding it – then figuring out the fastest way to blunt it.
At the root of the crisis: the synthetic opioid fentanyl, a painkiller for cancer patients, but which is sometimes used to extend or intensify or masquerade as other substances, such as Adderall, a drug for treating hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder sometimes misused as a study aid. Authorities suspect counterfeit Adderall or a similar drug in last May’s accidental overdose deaths of two Ohio State University students, including one from the Cleveland area.
But what if students have easy access to fentanyl test strips, so they can check?
One crucial public policy response to the opioid plague would be the massive distribution of fentanyl test strips and naloxone kits.
Fentanyl test strips are “small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in any drug batch – pills, powder, or injectables,” according to Health Affairs, a publication of Project Hope. Naloxone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is “a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose.” Naloxone may be administered as a nasal spray or as an injection. Distribution of test strips, especially, should be as wide as possible in Greater Cleveland.
Local front-line agencies have won plaudits in addressing the opioid plague, but more can and should be done. Last year, for example, national experts praised Cuyahoga County for its distribution of naloxone and the county’s Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Services Board, in particular, for its focus on community re-entry services for previously incarcerated people. But the experts also cited lack of evidence that addiction treatment funds were being spent only on accredited programs with proven results – more important than ever, given the death toll from overdoses and the need not to squander the opioid settlement monies coming in.
Meanwhile, from Cuyahoga County’s $117.5 million opioid settlement, County Executive Armond Budish said he wants to fund a $10 million Opioid Innovation Fund to test new ways to fight the epidemic, but County Council is undecided on the issue. The plan remains under discussion. If approved, it would be overseen by a board composed of medical experts, community representatives and people with experience of addiction, personally or through a family member. Budish’s idea is sound, creative and welcome – and the council should approve it.
Likewise laudable is Sen. Rob Portman’s continuing quest to fight fentanyl trafficking and abuse in order to save lives not only in Ohio but also nationwide.
Ultimately, stopping fentanyl from entering the United States in the first place has to be a key objective of government action. And border protection (along our land frontier with Mexico and our maritime frontier, as well as through the mails), is a federal responsibility.
The Joe Biden administration needs to be do more to stop imported fentanyl at our border and ports of entry. Likewise, the government should fully deploy its machinery to implement Portman’s STOP (Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention) Act.
That measure, according to Portman’s office, requires shippers of international mail parcels “to provide basic shipping information to (federal Customs and Border Protection).” Donald Trump signed the Portman bill in October 2018. Portman has also sponsored federal addiction recovery and prevention legislation with bipartisan support. His leadership on the issue, in combination with community efforts in Greater Cleveland and elsewhere in the state, are crucial to addressing the lethal threat that fentanyl and other opioids present to Ohioans.
Most important, now is the time to act and to prepare to act, and to marshal the resources, the fentanyl strips and naloxone kits, and the will to act. The lives saved could well be someone you know, in your own family, on your street, or among your children’s classmates.
— Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 2, 2022