A Major Mapping Of Cincinnati's Opioid Crisis

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The Cincinnati Enquirer sent reporters into the field for seven days to report on the heroin crisis. They returned with an alarming snapshot of a national epidemic.

Covington paramedics administer the lifesaving medication naloxone ntravenously to Gracie Centers after she overdosed in Covington. Prior to their arrival, bystanders had given her 12 milligrams of nasal Narcan, the brand to naloxone's generic. It took an additional six milligrams of IV naloxone before she was revived. After sitting up, she responded, "Thank you" to first responders. After getting her on a stretcher for transport to St. Elizabeth Hospital, she told them she hadn't done any drugs. Their response, "This isn't our first heroin overdose." (Courtesy Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer)
Covington paramedics administer the lifesaving medication naloxone intravenously to Gracie Centers after she overdosed in Covington. (Courtesy Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer)

We hear all the time about the opioid and heroin crisis. But some of us live that crisis intimately and some of us don’t. If you don’t, a new report from the Cincinnati Enquirer will shake your world. Either way, it will break your heart. Sixty journalists fanned out for one week over greater Cincinnati. They found the drugs, the needles, the despair and depravity everywhere. A flood of its own. Up next, On Point: Out of Cincinnati, “Seven Days of Heroin.”


Terry DeMio, heroin reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer and co-writer of "Seven Days Of Heroin: This is What an Epidemic Looks Like" (@tdemio)

Dan Horn, Hamilton County reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer and co-writer of "Seven Days Of Heroin: This is What an Epidemic Looks Like" (@danhornnews)

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator in Ohio (@SenSherrodBrown)

Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, shared his thoughts on the Cincinnati Enquirer's investigation, the heroin crisis in Cincinnati and the state at-large, as well as efforts within Congress and at the national level to combat the epidemic.

Here are some highlights from our conversation with him:

On the Cincinnati Enquirer's investigation

Sen. Brown: I know [Dan Horn and Terry DeMio] teach in journalism school and seminary both to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and they're both as professional journalists doing that and it's welcome for all of us that they stood up and [have] written what they've done. So, I just wanted to start by saying thank you.

On whether it takes the kind of reporting the Cincinnati Enquirer did to bring society to grip with the crisis?

Apparently. ...There is a book that came out a couple of years ago called "Dreamland" that documented a lot of what happened in Ohio and around the country, also. But Ohio unfortunately was front and center. We lead the nation, if that's the right word, in the number of overdose deaths. Not a day goes by without someone in Ohio, or someone's family member, husband, daughter, father, whatever [overdosing].

"It breaks people's hearts, and it's the biggest public health crisis of our lives in this state and in this country."

Sen. Brown

... We still are not combating this the way that we should. It takes good journalism like this to get it in front of us so policymakers do the right thing. I mean, it's prevention; it's education; it's medication-assisted therapy; it's trying to keep some of these drugs out of the country — although you never can arrest your way out of this. And I mean, I, whenever I hold a table — and I've done it for several years now around Ohio — and when you talk about addiction, somebody always has a story to tell. Tears come to eyes. People tell the story of an addicted sister they have, or a child or for 17-year-olds. ... It breaks people's hearts, and it's the biggest public health crisis of our lives in this state and in this country.

On what is happening in our culture, our economy and in Ohio that has made people so vulnerable to the scourge of heroin

... It’s a number of things. It's a hopelessness in communities that have lost, that have seen a devastation in terms of lost good-paying union jobs. I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. The journalists have written a lot, especially about Southern Ohio, where when a plant closes sometimes both husband and wife lose jobs because they both work here and the family income is wiped out.

It's doctors overprescribing OxyContin, Oxycodone, Percocet. It's people that go in, and they work with their hands and their backs and their shoulders and their arms and their legs. And they, they have pain. And rather than taking ibuprofen, the doctors prescribe pain relief medication that is morphine-based.

... It’s not having enough facilities. The federal government [and] state government have let us down by not providing the dollars to scale up treatment centers. Partly we don't have enough trained people. Nobody saw this coming to this degree, but partly, the state and federal government would rather do tax cuts for rich people than investing in Chillicothe and Portsmouth and Dayton and Mansfield and Cleveland and helping people with treatment.

It’s all of that, and on top of that, then you had Congress trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act where 200 – in our state alone, Tom, in our state alone in Ohio – 200,000 people are getting treatment for opioid addiction who have insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. And a bunch of politicians in Washington that get good, get their health insurance paid for by government, were going to pull it away from them. And many of these people are employed in low-wage jobs. I mean, it's just this, this hypocrisy, and this inertia and this indifference by far too many policy-makers, are a big, big contributor to this problem.

On Trump's statements on the opioid epidemic and where we stand in regards to a national emergency

... You've got a secretary of Health and Human Services that wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare. And I'll answer it this way. Lincoln once said — when his staff wanted him to stay in the White House, and win the war, and free the slaves, and preserve the Union — he said, no, I've got to get my public opinion bath and get out and listen to people ... Secretary Price clearly doesn't get out talking to real people about real problems and addiction if he thinks this isn't a public health emergency in this country.

The president has not really — either not heard, or not been willing to follow his own words and go out and really address this and bring attention that only a president with that loud microphone can bring. ... And I'm not just talking dollars, but the resources of the federal government, to bear on this problem.

... I want the president to come to Ohio and see the epidemic firsthand. I want him to sit — instead of calling names in New Hampshire, calling it a drug-infested den or whatever he said — to sit with people who have been addicted, who are addicted, whose families have suffered — the families suffer almost as much as the addict — and listen to them ... really drink in what these families are saying.

Tom's Reading List

Cincinnati Enquirer: Seven Days Of Heroin: This is What an Epidemic Looks Like — "Their bones look as if they might poke through their skin. Their eyes are sunken, their hair a tangled mess. Some are unsteady on their feet. Others scratch at sores on their arms. A few lean on the table in front of the judge as if it is the only thing holding them up." Drug companies want to dismiss Ohio's lawsuit over opioid epidemic — "Companies that make prescription opioids want a Ross County Common Pleas judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine that charged them with stoking Ohio's opioid epidemic by fraudulently marketing their products."

The Columbus Dispatch: Why are Ohio’s heroin deaths higher than those in Texas, California? — "In Ohio in 2015, more than 12 people per 100,000 died of heroin overdoses. For Texas and California — both states on the border with Mexico, where much of the heroin supply is said to originate — that figure was less than two."

This article was originally published on September 13, 2017.

This program aired on September 13, 2017.


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