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Nurse to Candidates: Opioid Crisis Should be "Front and Center" in Ohio


Friday, October 28, 2022   

Overdose deaths in Ohio are on track to fall below the record pace of last year, but the opioid crisis is far from over.

The group Harm Reduction Ohio estimated that overdose deaths for 2022 will drop below 5,000 for the first time since 2019. However, after falling at the beginning of the year, rates appear to have increased since May.

As a registered nurse at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, Rick Lucas has a firsthand view of the opioid epidemic. Lucas, an Ohio Nurses Association union leader, said he carries naloxone at all times to respond when patients - and sometimes, hospital visitors - overdose.

"The stress that everybody is under through the pandemic has only really made things tougher," he said. "Children losing parents, parents losing children, families split apart because of addiction. This is very much something that needs to continue to be front and center, and addressed."

The epidemic is a top issue in the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican J-D Vance, who wrote a memoir detailing family addiction. Vance has faced criticism of his nonprofit, which he said fights opiate abuse. Media reports have questioned the organization's spending on a political advisor and opinion polling. While financial disclosures indicate the nonprofit is now shuttered, Vance's campaign says it's on a temporary hold due to the Senate race.

Lucas explained that local health-care providers and organizations on the ground have worked tirelessly to help Ohioans struggling with addiction, as state and national resources have fluctuated.

"These folks need not only in-hospital care, but out-of-hospital care, and a lot of the funding comes from the federal government," he said. "So, it is really important that we have legislators in Washington that are gonna take this serious and push policies that have an impact on this crisis."

Lucas said states such as Ohio need more help tackling the opioid crisis, including its increased burden on the health-care system. And he argued that more investments are needed to help people struggling with addiction in rural communities.

"It's a real hardship for folks to travel 30 or 60 miles for ongoing treatment; they don't stick with it," he said. "So we definitely need a more proactive approach in addressing the mental health-care needs of individuals, so they're not turning to self-medicating with opioids or other illicit substances."

According to Harm Reducation Ohio, the worst overdose death rates in 2022 so far skew heavily toward the Appalachian counties in southeast Ohio.

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