CINCINNATI, Ohio – In our weekly State of Affairs articles, we’ve taken you to Tennessee, where liquor is no longer quicker thanks to prescription pain killer and heroin uptick consuming suburban areas. When we investigated Texas, we learned about P2P crossing the border and giving meth a more addictive ingredient more likely to bring about psychotic episodes. In Mississippi we learned about a drug called 25-I popping up in marijuana that took the life of one Mississippi State student. When we examined New York, we learned about the sinister takeover of entire neighborhoods with little to no accessibility for detox and treatment. In this week’s State of Affairs, we focus in on Ohio, where the Mother of Presidents is also mother to a beastly heroin epidemic and a shortage of resources for people in desperate need of help.
Nestled in the city of Cincinnati, home to multi-billion dollar corporation Procter & Gamble, we talked to the CEO of Ohio’s Addiction Services Council Nan Franks.
“If you’re asking what the overall drug of choice is in our state, alcohol still takes the lead, followed by marijuana,” says Franks. “If you’re asking what’s causing the most deaths and cause for alarm, it’s opioid dependence, specifically heroin.”
The state faces an increase in opioid abuse at astronomical proportions, and the challenge of fighting the frighteningly high overdose rate is daunting, to say the least. The agency sees the same problem in Ohio that was expressed in New York – a lack of accessibility for detoxification and treatment facilities.
“We are seeing young opiate addicts waiting and wanting treatment, but they are put on a waiting list and can’t get in,” says Franks. “They then try to detox themselves.”
Self-detoxification is not only a physically dangerous practice, but the effects can be harmful as well. When someone detoxifies themselves, they may lower their tolerance for the drug, greatly increasing their chances for overdose. Franks says their council sees more and more people who are addicted to heroin in their teens and now find themselves in their early 20s desperate for help.
“The Medicaid expansion helped, but it still doesn’t fill the need,” says Franks. “We see a lot of people who started on legitimate pain medicine, got addicted and then switched to heroin. It often produces this type of dynamic.”
This is a growing problem Vertava Health has seen in EVERY state we’ve investigated in State of Affairs so far. The states see a huge problem in abuse of prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin or Hydrocodone, and sets up a system to track doctor shopping (going from doctor to doctor to get more pain meds), and people turn to the cheaper, more accessible heroin.
Working closely with the poison control center, the Addiction Services Council goes into schools in the state educating families and communities to send a message discouraging the trend, and educate on treatment and prevention.
(Photo courtesy of 10tv.com)
The state has also seen an increase in Spice (a synthetic drug) and the recent deadly batches of fentanyl-laced heroin made their way through southwestern Ohio. But a newer dangerous drug ties the state to Tennessee. Gravel, a highly addictive stimulant named after its appearance and texture, is a mixture of rat poison, bath salts, ammonium nitrate and methamphetamine. Officials in Columbus were warned after nearly 2 dozen cases in Tennessee. One user told WBNS 10tv it is “my generation’s crack”. The drug commonly causes paranoia and a raise in blood pressure.
“People take it because they’re told it got a friend of theirs high,” says Franks. “Often they will just take it not knowing what it is and don’t question it.”
The state is supporting initiatives to areas hard hit by pill mills (storefront pain clinics), and is currently seeking additional funding for medical-assisted treatment for drug abuse – a practice Franks says MUST be coupled with behavioral treatment. Governor Kasich has just enacted the “Start Talking” initiative to get more families and children to talk about drugs. A controversial needle exchange program is at work (heroin users can bring in their dirty needles and exchange them for new ones to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV).
“It’s got to be a multi-pronged approach,” says Franks. “Prevention, treatment, recovery and a sober living environment.”
The Addiction Services Council has seen dramatic financial cuts. Franks is not just the CEO, she’s also the CFO. In a little over a year, she says their staff has gone from 79 to 29. This 50-employee loss is devastating for the communities that need their help.
“This is a disease,” says Franks. “It’s a community problem, and it takes a whole community to fix it.”
We couldn’t agree more, Ms. Franks. Our full range of services are available to the people of Ohio, and our treatment specialists will work to get them the treatment that they need.
Nan Franks, M.A., LPC, LICDC, is CEO of the Alcoholism Council of the Cincinnati Area, NCADD. She has worked in the behavioral health field since 1973. Her work in the last 30 years has focused on addictive illness and it’s effect on individuals, families and community. During her years of work with addiction issues, she has provided intervention specific services to many families and work groups. She earned her Master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1983. She has presented all over the United States on issues related to addiction, healing, and recovery. She has authored three books on the subject of ethics for human service professionals. Additionally, she is certified as a Work Less Make More Coach and as a RESULTS Executive Leadership Coach.