State official talks of opiate epidemic

By Joe Gorman


Jennifer Biddinger said there is one statistic in the avalanche of figures that tells her why so many people are turning to or using drugs, especially opiates.

Biddinger, the director of Drug Abuse Outreach Initiatives for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, told a group of mostly counselors and some law-enforcement personnel Thursday the United States makes up just 4 percent of the world’s population, yet uses 80 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, or opioid pain medication.

She said that tells her people are just ingrained to take something to make them feel better, whether they have emotional or physical pain.

“We are a society that takes something to feel better,” Biddinger said.

Biddinger was speaking as part of the attorney general’s drug-abuse summit at the Newport Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County on Market Street.

The Mahoning Valley has seen a rash of heroin and opiate-based overdoses in recent years, and several deaths earlier this year in Trumbull County were attributed to heroin usage.

Biddinger said it has become of our culture to just take a pill to feel better, and that can be dangerous if they are abused, she said.

Some in law enforcement say that opiate-based painkillers, such as OxyContin, are over-prescribed, which leads to people becoming addicts of opiate-based drugs, or heroin, if they can’t get the pain pills, because heroin is cheaper.

Biddinger said some estimates peg the number of heroin addicts across the state at 2 percent of the population, which is the estimated rate in Cuyahoga County.

Nationally, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a person dies from drug usage once every 14 minutes, and 100 people a day die from overdoses, statistics provided by Biddinger show.

In 2008, drug overdoses for the first time eclipsed auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death. Since 2012, deaths from opiate-based pills are declining, but the number of people dying from heroin overdoses has been increasing.

There is hope for the future, though, because of increased community awareness and a greater emphasis by law enforcement in combating opiate addictions, Biddinger said.

She said the drug naloxone, or Narcan, especially, is a big help. The drug is used as an antidote for people who are suffering from heroin overdose.

She said her goal is to make it be easier for people to have naloxone and for it to be more widely available.