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Educators, state officials gather to talk about heroin epidemic

TNS Regional News • Apr 30, 2014 at 7:07 PM

Educators from around the state were recruited Tuesday to fight an Ohio heroin epidemic that “threatens the essence of who we are,” Gov. John Kasich said.

“Make a decision, cause a controversy, so what. If you make a difference in the life of a child you will be remembered forever,” Kasich said at the Alliance for High Quality Education Heroin Summit at Worthington Kilbourne High School.

School officials from the alliance, a consortium of 60 high-performing school districts in Ohio, heard the same message loud and clear from Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, state School Superintendent Richard Ross and others: heroin is a problem everywhere in Ohio. Period.

“It could be anybody’s family, anyplace in Ohio. Any social group. And racial group,” DeWine said. “It’s just as likely to be in Adams County as it is in inner city Cleveland. It’s burrowed deep in the fabric of our society.”

Paul Imhoff, Upper Arlington school superintendent, said the “curse of heroin...is a battle every day. We have to stand up. We cannot stand idly by.”

Kasich recently started a new anti-drug program called “Start Talking” that encourages parents, educators and others in the community to talk to kids about drug abuse. The role of educators was driven home at the summit, the first of several similar events planned around the state.

“You have an alligator living in your house,” Kasich said, describing parents living with their child’s drug abuse. “You have to feed it or it will kill you. Even if you feed it, it will kill you. You might get it down in the basement, but it will keep trying to get back upstairs.”

Kasich, the father of 14-year old twin daughters, was clearly moved by a video done by DeWine’s office and shown at the summit in which two parents talked about the life and heroin overdose death of their daughter, Marin Riggs, at age 20.

See snippets from Marin Riggs' diary

“Stay off the drugs,” Kasich said he tells his daughters repeatedly.

Accidental drug-overdose deaths hit a record 1,914 in Ohio in 2012, as deadly abuse shifted dramatically toward heroin from prescription drugs. The total was 8.4 percent higher than 2011.

Included in that total, were heroin overdose deaths which jumped to 680, an increase of nearly 60 percent, according to annual statistics from the Ohio Department of Health, as reported by 88 county coroners.

Since 2007, overdose deaths have been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio — more than auto accidents.

Kasich and DeWine’s Democratic opponents in this year’s elections issued statements in reaction to the summit.

“It's hypocritical for the governor to speak at a summit on heroin abuse when for years he cut millions to police and social services, ignoring a problem that his own Department of Health said was foreseeable,” said Ed FitzGerald, who is running against Kasich.

David Pepper, DeWine’s Democratic challenger, called Ohio’s response to the heroin problem until now “anemic...Instead of more meetings, pep talks and lectures to local government, we need action...As attorney general, I will provide more treatment, hold dealers accountable for heroin deaths, and restore the resources and training local communities need to battle this crisis.”


By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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