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OUR VIEW: Legislators must lead on Ohio's heroin crisis

Published: October 9, 2016 12:00 AM

Democrats at the Statehouse want Gov. John Kasich to do more to enable the state to address Ohio's heroin epidemic, which has taken the lives of thousands and caused even more non-fatal overdoses.

They're calling on Kasich to declare a state of emergency, which would enable $300 million sequestered in the state's rainy day fund to help communities to respond to the crisis.

The governor's office says he has no power to declare an emergency and notes a number of efforts in response to the heroin crisis. Democrats say otherwise, noting Kasich's declaration of an emergency that enabled a legislative spending oversight panel to OK $9.5 million to cover security costs related to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

The argument could be a turf battle.

Meanwhile, Ohioans are dying.

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Late last month, Columbus saw 27 heroin overdoses in a 24-hour period. In August, 174 overdoses in Cincinnati were linked to the use of heroin cut with carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer. Akron saw an upsurge in overdoses during the summer. Portage County is not immune, either; drug overdoses have surpassed traffic fatalities as the leading cause of accidental death in recent years.

If the governor is unwilling -- or, as he says, unable -- to declare a state of emergency, the legislature out to be able to find a way of addressing the issue on its own, including committing adequate funding.

One problem appears to be the legislature's schedule, which appears to be a limited one. The Ohio Senate recently resumed its session, after a summer recess that began in May and stretched through four months. The Ohio House met briefly last month to appoint new members to replace those who had resigned. Now, with the election coming up, legislators are otherwise occupied; they aren't expected to return to the Statehouse until November, when a "lame duck" session will convene.

Meanwhile, Ohioans are dying.

The heroin crisis, in the words of State Rep. Greta Johnson, is "the No. 1 issue on (Ohioans') minds," which may not be hyperbole given the number of deaths and drug-related incidents being experienced across the state. If that is indeed the case, the legislature ought to set aside politics and summon the will to address the issue and hopefully, Gov. Kasich will support its efforts.

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