Doing nothing isn’t an option

Last month’s article, “One pill, one time, no second chances,” told a powerful story of a single fatal mistake made by Cole Ryan Smoot, a young man in Carlisle, Ohio, who decided to take a prescription drug that was not his. This is a story that could happen to any of us.

According to the Start Talking! website (www.StartTalking.Ohio.Gov), one in six teens have used a prescription drug in order to get high or change their mood. Two-thirds of teens who abuse pain relievers say they get them from family members and friends. Children of parents who talk to their teens about drugs are 50 percent less likely to use. More Americans die from drug overdoses than in car crashes. One person dies every 19 minutes from drug overdose in the United States and this is an increasing trend driven by prescription painkillers.

Too often, cases of alcohol and other drug abuse and addiction must be addressed by the Washington County Common Pleas Court. To obtain a local court perspective on the problem, I invited the Honorable Judge Ed Lane to read Cole’s story and give me his thoughts. Judge Lane’s reaction follows:

“During my 29 years as a judge I have witnessed too many tragedies from addiction to recall all of them. Cole’s story is very much a story of our time. Each drug has an impact on its users, their loved ones, and society. I once had a mother, who lost a child to an overdose, tell me that she never wakes up and thinks this is ‘going to be a good day.’ What a terrible price to pay.

“Each drug has its own history. However, pills are unique. They are highly addictive substances created and manufactured in America by Americans for Americans. Somewhere along the line the American business community realized how much money was flowing in the drug trade. When I first began seeing oxycontin and oxycodone in my court I was told that these were drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies as non-addictive medicines that would guarantee that no one would ever experience pain. They were presented as synthetic morphine and cocaine without the side effects.

“Ground Zero for the pill addiction epidemic is noted in Sam Quinones’ book “Dream Land” as Portsmouth, Ohio. In the 1990s, Portsmouth had eight pain clinics dispensing 35 million pills a year. These were largely cash only operations. When users could no longer afford the pills, they turned to the cheap and available alternative of heroin. Google “Portsmouth, Ohio” and you will find numerous websites for pain clinics.

“Ohioans are now being asked to vote to legalize marijuana. This move is being led by a few corporations. If legalization is approved by the voters, these select corporations will have the exclusive right to grow and market marijuana in Ohio. Because money is now the driving factor in American politics there is little opposition from Ohio’s elected leaders or politicians to this proposal. America has entered a new age in the history of addiction. This is the age of corporate created addictions. My fear is that the story of Cole Smoot will be repeated in ever increasing numbers. During my decades on the bench numerous politicians and public officials of all political persuasions have come and gone. All promise to address the problem but what has happened has been cuts to funding for proven treatment modalities.”

Judge Lane and I agree that doing nothing is not an option for our society. Seeking and implementing solutions must be supported by all of us.

We can no longer “sweep this under the rug.” We must demand leadership from our elected officials from Washington County to Washington, D.C., and get the funding for prevention and treatment for every Ohio county. To help or obtain additional information call the Behavioral Health Board, 740-374-6990.

Larry Hall is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears the last Saturday of the month on the Opinion page.