Recent events involving some of Ohio’s top officials shine the spotlight even more brightly on a situation that continues to rise from the shadows and plague the state. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing five manufacturers of opioids. Further, Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor revealed that her sons have struggled with opioid addiction.
As the lieutenant governor’s situation proves, opioid addiction transcends socioeconomic, class, race or geographical backgrounds. It is an equal-opportunity malaise that is unraveling the very fabric of society. This epidemic brings heartache to a wide swath of individuals, and we need to confront it in the same manner. We can no longer try to hide from the issue or pretend it does not pertain to us. That’s too easy and naïve. More importantly, it clearly isn’t working.
Its victims are not junkies or the ne’er do wells of society. They are our family members, neighbors, co-workers and community members. Further, the opioid addiction plague is increasingly becoming a rural problem, impacting area communities. Heroin is cheap and accessible, and that is a lethal combination. The heroin on our streets now often contains synthetic additives such as fentanyl that are even deadlier.
The numbers bear out the grim reality. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in our county, exceeding motor vehicle accidents. Overdoses claimed more than 52,000 lives in United States in 2016. Ohio was third in the nation in 2015 in its overdose rate, with 30 of 100,000 people losing their lives to overdoses.
Beyond the awful toll of loss of life, heroin addiction leads to a spike in the crime rate, with users unable to hold jobs but still needing a way to afford that daily fix. Tragically, many addicts are young adults with children. This plague is devastating the basic unit of our social structure – the family.
Frankly, this epidemic has outgrown conventional ways of addressing the issue. It is now a matter of rehabilitating, rather than just punishing, the person who is addicted. Currently, the ultimate outcomes for opioid users are often death or incarceration, and that is not acceptable.
To fight back effectively, we need a multifaceted approach that includes medical, judicial, law enforcement, mental health and social work professionals working together. The key is getting each type of professional on the same page. Researchers in various specialties speak different languages across their professional fields, and the goal is to bring it all together.
If experts in criminology, sociology, medicine and psychology, as well as practitioners in the field, can all connect, there is hope for improved treatment. Opioid addiction is a medical, legal, psychological, social and spiritual problem. We need a multifaceted approach to a multifaceted challenge.
This spring, we hosted a panel discussion on Ohio Northern’s campus that provided the opportunity for a frank discussion about the heroin problem. It included practitioners from across the spectrum who brought unique skills and perspectives toward a common goal.
As a people, we need to continue this type of united, cross-disciplinary approach. We have to be both book-smart and street-smart at the same time.
As recent events have shown, the opioid crisis is a savvy monster that threatens to devour a cross-section of our society. We need to take an equally, shrewd, inclusive approach to dealing with it.
Keith Durkin, Ph.D, is a professor of Sociology at Ohio Northern University. He has published a number of papers on substance abuse that have appeared in a variety of outlets, including Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, Sociological Spectrum, Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, and Readings in Deviant Behavior.