Ohio has an opium problem. Statistics from the Ohio Department of Health show the number of people dying from drug overdoses increased 440 percent from 1999 to 2011. But as Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports, there's bipartisan support for a bill in the state legislature that would try to reduce drug deaths.
Republican state representative Terry Johnson is a doctor. He says more needs to be done to help Ohioans who are addicted to opium, heroin or opiate pain killers.
Johnson: "Once you are addicted to an opioid, it is a very difficult process to recover from."
But Johnson says there is a drug called Narcan or Naloxone that can stop an opioid overdose at the point it is administered.
Johnson: "It reverses opioid or opiate overdose and it does so almost instantly. It's a very remarkable drug, high safety profile, very easy to use. The trouble is in the past, we've primarily used it in the e.r. because there's no other place to use it. But it turns out that now people are overdosing, it would be a very good idea to put it in the hands of people who can save lives."
Johnson wants to put the drug in the hands of family members of drug addicts. He says they are the ones who are most likely to use it since the drug users are often not physically able to when they are overdosing. The problem is that Ohio law doesn't allow family members to get the drug directly.
So Johnson and Democratic State Representative Mike Stinziano want to change the law. Stinziano other states are finding when they put the drugs in the hands of family members of abusers, lives are saved.
Stinziano: "Nine other states have removed these regulatory barriers and they've seen success when properly applied in reducing the overdose rate in those states."
You don't have to convince Lisa Roberts, a Scioto County nurse. She works with drug addicted people in her county where she says drug abuse is rampant.
Roberts: "Rural communities like mine have seen an epidemic of prescription drug addiction leading to heroin addiction and consequently, lots of consequences that go along with that. We have the highest hepatitis C rate in the state of Ohio. We have the highest homicide rate in the state of Ohio now. So these are new developments for rural counties like mine. We are not used to dealing with these sorts of problems."
Roberts says she's been involved with a pilot project from the state health department to allowing relaxed use of Narcan. And she says it's helping to lower the number of deaths and the number of new cases of Hepatitis C. That doesn't come as a surprise to Dr. Joan Papp of Cleveland. She is hoping the state will pass this bill to allow family members to possess the anti opioid drug. Papp says something needs to be done to stop the growing number of deaths in Northeast Ohio.
Papp: "In the emergency department, we are seeing a drastic increase in the number of heroin overdose deaths particularly. In Cuyahoga County last year, we saw the highest number of heroin deaths that our county has ever experienced - 161 deaths total. That's up from 2006 when the number was 52."
Papp agrees putting the anti opioid drugs in the hands of family members of abusers can save lives. So does Miles Dawson of Southeast Ohio. He himself has almost become a statistic….by overdosing and living to tell about it.
Dawson: "I had just gotten home from rehab and my Mom was coming over to visit me and I had relapsed again and she found me with my baby brother on my bed lying unconscious. She had to wait for the paramedics to get there and then them take me to the hospital. By the grace of God, I did make it through to make it to the hospital but what could have been my success rate if she could have just given it to me right then and there?"
Dawson says he's been clean for three years now. Ohio legislators will be considering this bill soon and with bipartisan support, the lawmakers backing it hope it will pass.