Ohio’s opioid and heroin epidemic today is far whiter -- and younger -- than ever before, as a column and editorial I wrote for this Sunday’s paper will show.
At a Heroin Anonymous meeting I attended two weeks ago in Toledo, 90 percent of the people were white, and most appeared to be in their 20s. Surveys of state-funded treatment centers also show that roughly 90 percent of those seeking treatment are white, a big shift from even a decade ago.
The new demographics of opioid and heroin addiction have driven a new kind of politics. Ohio state representatives have introduced a dozen bills, including measures to expand treatment and better regulate the way prescription painkillers are dispensed and monitored.
For the most part, they are reasonable proposals. Most have been introduced by Republicans and have Democratic support. In a way, Ohio’s opioid and heroin epidemic has turned the General Assembly -- a typically petty and partisan crew -- into responsible adults.
But if this epidemic had been largely confined to poor neighborhoods in Ohio’s central cities, the response -- if any -- would have probably been far different. It would have more closely resembled the so-called War on Drugs of the 1970s -- when tough, and futile, mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession were enacted to deal with that decade’s heroin epidemic.
But then and now, the dynamics of opioid and heroin addiction remain the same: It’s a seductive, destructive, maniacal disease whose euphoric highs and wrenching lows render a life unmanageable. In northwest Ohio, heroin-related deaths more than doubled last year -- to 80, from 31 in 2012.
To their credit, legislators and the administration of Gov. John Kasich have reacted in a big way. It’s sad to note, though, that the demographics of this epidemic had to shift before the politics of addiction changed.