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Are local resources enough to combat Ohio’s opioid epidemic?

(February 15, 2017) — Roger T. Winemiller lost his sister to a heroin overdose the night before Easter last year.

Then his half-brother, five days before Christmas.

Today, Winemiller, 35, is himself two months clean, but says he will fight the unbearable grip of opioids for the rest of his life.

The impact of narcotics has hit the Winemiller family, of Blanchester in southwestern Ohio, like a runaway train.

Winemiller meets with a doctor weekly for a Suboxone injection, a drug that helps prevent relapse. In his village of 4,200 about 40 miles northeast of Cincinnati, his support network of family and faith takes on Ohio’s opioid crisis one day at a time.

At least eight Ohioans die of a drug overdose every day — or one every three hours. That statistic has grown just in the 13 months since Attorney General Mike DeWine held his first statewide opioid-crisis meeting in January 2016. More than 1,200 attended DeWine’s second meeting Tuesday, held at Fellowship Baptist Church in Canal Winchester.

”We have a number of outreaches that go into our inner-city, around our community, schools, things like that, and we’re realizing that there is not a single person who walks through the doors of our church that is not impacted in some way by this issue,“ said Pastor David Liuzzo said. ”It doesn’t matter the financial status or whatever, it’s affecting everybody.“

For Winemiller, the resources he needed came from local DeCoach Rehabilitation Center, which prescribes Suboxone and provides mental-health care.

”I see a medical doctor once a week and I see a counselor twice a week, and every single one of the people is personalized,“ Winemiller said. ”Every single one is, ’how are you doing, Roger?’ and not your dad, not the community, it’s ’How are you doing?’ and ’Did you use some alcohol this week?’ and if you did, ’Let’s work on it.’“

Winemiller is DeCoach’s first and only patient. The official grand opening of the addiction-recovery service’s Xenia office in Greene County is next Wednesday.

”The key factor here is the underlying issue that causes the person to start drugs of any kind,“ said Winemiller’s father, also Roger Winemiller. ”And it’s anxiety, depression, boredom, peer pressure, prescription pills. He got started on heroin because he had an injury, had prescription pills and then went on from there. There’s an underlying issue that a lot of county agencies do not address.“

To Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, one other underlying issue is the lack of funding from the state government. He issued a statement the morning of DeWine’s statewide meeting, saying more talk and PR will not solve Ohio’s heroin epidemic.

”Their rhetoric in every forum is, ’Oh, it’s up to local grass-roots efforts,’“ Pepper said. ”If that’s true, then give them more resources. Don’t take the resources away. Those local communities do, by the way, shoulder most of the responsibility, but they’re doing it with the state having taken away millions of dollars from court systems, from treatment, from first-responders like police and fire and from schools.“

Gov. John Kasich’s proposed two-year budget would remain flat for funding of the anti-drug effort.

DeWine refused to comment on what Pepper said, but said that if his forums only generate talk without action, his office has failed.

”These are ideas from people who are on the front lines every single day, who have to have something that matters and something that makes an impact,“ DeWine said. ”So what I tell people in the local communities is to be proud of what you’re doing. Yes, you’re still losing people and it’s horrible. But you’re saving lives.

“And so that’s the message today. It’s a message of hope.”