Ohio needs an opioid czar

Columbus and Franklin County have teamed up to hire a new opioid czar for central Ohio. That’s what other cities and the state of Ohio ought to do as well.

Toledo ought to use Columbus’ efforts as a model and create our own drug czar. Even more importantly, state government — which under Gov. John Kasich has been asleep at the wheel as Ohio’s opioid crisis has hurtled on — desperately needs to create its own statewide opioid czar to marshal resources to both help people already addicted to opioids and prevent more people from falling prey to them.

The crisis is urgent everywhere, but even more so in Ohio, where more than 4,000 people died of accidental overdoses last year. Ohio routinely leads the nation in such deaths.

Right now, each segment of society affected by the crisis is struggling to manage its responsibilities. Police need more training and access to life-saving naloxone. Children services agencies struggle to find enough foster homes for children whose addicted parents cannot care for them. Public health officials struggle to find a way to create more detox and treatment facilities to handle the exploding demand.

What if the state had an office that looked at all these needs as they relate to each other to craft a comprehensive plan for Ohio? It’s astonishing and shameful that, several years into this public health emergency, there is no such plan in place.

A state opioid czar’s office could be a clearinghouse for information and resources that county and local authorities could use. A czar could advocate for more funding, better use of existing resources, and best practices.

A czar could also identify and advocate for the local programs around the state that are effective, such as Lucas County’s Drug Abuse Response Team.

Finally, a czar’s office could coordinate the research and expertise necessary to craft legislation and policies that will be most effective in combating addiction and addressing the causes of this particular epidemic.

The state is already shamefully behind in addressing this crisis. Appointing an opioid czar would signal that Ohio’s elected leaders finally understand the scope and urgency of the problem.

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Toledo Blade

Published on Aug. 16, 2017