Lawmaker says emergency declaration could help fight opiate crisis

COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Ohio has been among the states hardest hit by the opiate epidemic, with thousands of dying from accidental overdoses each year.

But, while states like Maryland and Florida have declared statewide opiate emergencies, Ohio has not. Lawmakers and advocates are urging Governor Kasich to formally declare a state of emergency in the opiate crisis.

“The first step is admitting that there is a problem and clearly there is,” said State Representative Hearcel Craig.

A state commission is making good on Gov. Kasich’s request to invest $20 million in scientific breakthroughs that could help solve the opiate crisis. The Ohio State Highway Patrol said Franklin County ranks second in the state for heroin seizures, up a whopping 300%. Police officers in Columbus, Hilliard and Dublin have started carrying the life-saving overdose reversal drug, Narcan or Naloxone.

Despite these efforts and more, Ohio continues to have some of the most overdose deaths in the country.

“It’s clear that we can and we must do more,” said Rep. Craig. “I believe the Governor cares and certainly from the legislature, many of us we’re wrestling with this issue. We’re looking at identifying resources.”

He said he believes an emergency declaration would free up money, possibly from the state’s rainy day fund, helping addicts get treatment faster.

“Other states have done it again, the first step is always saying, ‘Yeah there is a problem,’ and clearly admitting there is a problem and then finding the appropriate resources to make sure we’re addressing the issue,” said Rep. Craig.

Scott VanDerKarr is a former Franklin County judge, who retired from the bench to fight the opiate crisis, full-time.

“If the legislature feels that would get more money put into treatment and detox then I would say I’m all for it,” said VanDerKarr. “Just the mere fact of saying it’s an emergency and saying we as a state have to come together, there’s a value to that. We have to come together. There’s no question.”

Gov. Kasich’s Office sent us this statement, regarding his stance on declaring an opiate emergency:

“…there is no specific authority under Ohio law to declare a “public health” emergency – the legislature hasn’t granted any governor this particular authority. However, even if the governor were able to issue a “public health” alert/notice/advisory, there isn’t faucet of money that will automatically turn on and flow. At the end of the day, regardless the state of the issue, the governor is already treating this drug epidemic with a sense of emergency.”

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