The on­go­ing ter­ror­ist at­tack in Ohio

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY GARY ABER­NATHY Gary Aber­nathy is pub­lisher and ed­i­tor of the (Hills­boro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.

There is an on­go­ing ter­ror­ist at­tack hap­pen­ing in Ohio. It has noth­ing to do with the Is­lamic State or po­lit­i­cal an­ar­chists. The weapons in this case come in the form of heroin and other opioids, and the ter­ror­ists are the push­ers who spread the deadly poi­son.

From the Colum­bus Dis­patch this spring: “At least 4,149 Ohioans died from un­in­ten­tional drug over­doses in 2016, a 36 per­cent leap from just the pre­vi­ous year, when Ohio had by far the most over­dose deaths in the na­tion . . . . Many coroners said that 2017’s over­dose fa­tal­i­ties are out­pac­ing 2016’s.”

Con­sider that num­ber — 4,149 over­dose deaths in Ohio in one year, more than the num­ber who died on 9/11.

The worst of the state’s opi­oid prob­lems are here in south­ern Ohio. The Highland County coro­ner pro­vided our news­pa­per, the Times-Gazette, with a re­cap of cases from 2016 show­ing at least 16 over­dose deaths in this small ru­ral county. He also pointed to 50 deaths dur­ing the year from other causes where drug use or a his­tory of drug use were present.

Even non-fa­tal over­doses are tax­ing lo­cal re­sources. Dur­ing the first three weeks of May, emer­gency re­spon­ders an­swered calls to at least 18 over­doses around the county, al­most three times as many as dur­ing the same pe­riod a year ago. The public in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the lo­cal fire and emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices depart­ment called it “the new nor­mal.”

This is all hap­pen­ing around lit­tle Hills­boro, a town of­ten com­pared with television’s idyl­lic May­berry. With the FBI re­port­ing that most heroin en­ters the United States from Mex­ico, and lo­cal of­fi­cials say­ing that it then makes its way here through metropoli­tan drug rings, it’s no won­der that few peo­ple in Hills­boro think Pres­i­dent Trump’s border se­cu­rity plans are ex­treme.

Like other forms of ter­ror­ism, the opi­oid at­tack will have a gen­er­a­tional im­pact, in this case in a foster-care cri­sis be­ing left in its wake. In De­cem­ber 2015, our news­pa­per re­ported that “a fo­cused crack­down on drug abuse by lo­cal law en­force­ment — a fo­cus ap­plauded by nearly ev­ery­one — has led to the un­in­tended con­se­quence of more chil­dren who are left home­less.”

Our most re­cent ar­ti­cle on the sub­ject, in April, re­ported that there were more than 100 chil­dren in foster care, cost­ing our county about $1.9 mil­lion an­nu­ally. With just 15 foster par­ents in all of Highland County, “many chil­dren must be placed in other coun­ties, in­cur­ring higher costs.”

The drug cri­sis is lead­ing to some con­tro­ver­sial ini­tia­tives. Our lo­cal health com­mis­sioner re­cently un­veiled a pro­gram to sup­ply free nalox­one, an opi­oid in­hibitor, to peo­ple who at­tend train­ing on how and when to ad­min­is­ter it to over­dose vic­tims. Many res­i­dents op­pose the idea, ar­gu­ing that the same users are be­ing re­vived time and again, but the com­mis­sioner responds that his agency is charged with sav­ing lives.

Opioids come in le­gal form, too, and Ohio’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Mike DeWine, re­cently sued the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, ac­cus­ing drug­mak­ers of con­tribut­ing to the prob­lem through mis­lead­ing mar­ket­ing cam­paigns.

Af­ter I briefly men­tioned the over­dose epi­demic in a re­cent op-ed for The Post about our re­gion’s sup­port for Trump, I heard from read­ers claim­ing that Trump’s 2018 bud­get does lit­tle to fight the opi­oid prob­lem. Maybe, but the sta­tis­tics show that what we have been do­ing is not work­ing, which in­di­cates we should not just keep do­ing more of it.

Some lo­cal of­fi­cials have be­gun tack­ling the heroin cri­sis more ag­gres­sively, es­pe­cially since re­cent batches have been laced with fen­tanyl, an even dead­lier drug. Fen­tanyl is largely a Chi­nese ex­port, which presents Trump with an op­por­tu­nity to in­sist on a crack­down as a bar­gain­ing chip in what ap­pears to be his ef­fort to­ward bet­ter trade re­la­tions with China.

Our lo­cal pros­e­cu­tor has be­gun charg­ing those ac­cused of sup­ply­ing fen­tanyl-laced heroin to over­dose vic­tims with in­vol­un­tary man­slaugh­ter, rather than treat­ing th­ese sim­ply as ac­ci­den­tal deaths. If that ap­proach is more widely adopted, drug push­ers who are ar­rested but typ­i­cally back on the streets in short or­der will in­stead find them­selves be­hind bars un­der stiffer charges more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the death and car­nage they are caus­ing.

In south­ern Ohio, the opi­oid prob­lem is be­yond mere fod­der for par­ti­san bud­getary de­bates. We’re deal­ing with pur­vey­ors of poi­son car­ry­ing out a real-time as­sault on our com­mu­ni­ties. When it comes to the flow of deadly drugs into the United States and com­mu­ni­ties such as Hills­boro, we have to com­bat it out­side the scope of typ­i­cal drug abuse preven­tion pro­grams.

Our vaunted “war on drugs” has long rep­re­sented lit­tle more than be­nign phrase­ol­ogy. But it has be­come a real war, and the drug car­tels and push­ers here and abroad are en­emy com­bat­ants. Un­til we re­spond as we would to any ter­ror­ist at­tack, the ca­su­al­ties will con­tinue to mount. That may sound ex­treme, but the ris­ing death toll sug­gests oth­er­wise.

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