The State Of The State Of Ohio’s Opioid Epidemic

A blizzard of angst filled soul searching follows the presidential election, current administration, continuing to this day with “how did this happen?” Etc. Many are not so surprised, more bemused in that all of this was in plain sight. Intentions as well as actions today are simply a continuance of what was stated, promised, and actively displayed before. ‘Nuff said. Within his recent (4-4-17) State of the State address, Ohio’s Governor John Kasich’s lips pronounced “Ensuring that we have the basics in place — fiscal strength, lower taxes, proper regulation — opens the door for us to sell our state across the nation and across the world.” This mantra was repeated multiple times, even more through fragments. Sounds pretty clear. No mystification of priorities, intent, or course of action here. He also had this to say about Ohio’s Opioid drug epidemic, though he didn’t call it that (Name thing I guess. Been there, done that with the current pres’): “Last year, Highway Patrol troopers had their largest single heroin, meth and prescription pill seizures. Ohio was one of the first states to create prescribing guidelines for doctors. We’ve linked our medical providers into our pharmacy system to slow doctor shopping and for the first time we’re registering pharmacy technicians. We’ve expanded access to the overdose-reversal drug to first responders, pharmacies and families of those addicted. And we created Start Talking! to encourage more adults to talk to children about the dangers of drugs. In all, we’re spending nearly $1 billion a year.” And “That’s why today I’m asking the Third Frontier Commission to provide up to $20 million to help bring new scientific breakthroughs to the battle against drug abuse and addiction. These funds will target existing, proven ideas that simply need an extra push to be brought to the fight — ideas like using a simple device that connects to someone’s ear that can relieve pain and block the effects of opiate withdrawal.” Finally “We love our children and care about our neighbors, so we’ve got to deliver this message to them: “Don’t do drugs or you will destroy your life and you will destroy the purpose for which the good Lord created you.”” Not a word, or dollar, for rehabilitation. Analysis considers the implications of this abdication of leadership, the vacuum formed by Kasich’s overriding priorities, intent, and course of action. Indeed, historically US public health epidemics have been met by an equally public response of sanatoriums, recovery centers, and public health initiatives (all notably absent with the governor’s approach). History has lectured us extensively on what happens in a leadership vacuum (South East Asia, Syria/Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.). Add to that Kasich and the GOP’s historic preference (and reliance) on a religious response to education, social welfare and public health concerns. Here is some of what Kevin Lewis O’Neill writes in an essay entitled “On Hunting” (Critical Inquiry Spring 2017):

““We hunt men,” Alejandro said, “to save them.” Locked up inside a Pentecostal drug rehabilitation center for his use of crack cocaine, Alejandro participates in his pastor’s hunting parties or grupos de caceria. At the outer edges of today’s war on drugs, Christian vigilante groups scour the streets of Guatemala City with singular intent: to pull users out of sin by dragging them into rehab. And so, in the middle of the night, when the capital is an absolute ghost town, three or four recovering users drive with their pastor to the house of an active user.” “As a part of economic restructuring – which has included the privatization of state enterprises, the liberalization of trade, and the relaxation of government regulation [sound familiar?]– less than 2 percent of Guatemala’s total health budget addresses issues of mental health, with its hospitals flatly denying medical service to those patients seeking support for substance abuse.” “Pentecostal drug rehabilitation centers, when taken in the aggregate, have six thousand beds.” “Guatemala’s prisons sit at 250 percent capacity; the hospitals do not accept users; and Guatemala’s only mental institution understands drug use to be well outside the scope of its mission.” “More important than numbers, however, are the visceral truths that Pentecostal Christianity promises its people: Salvation is real; hell is eternal; and Jesus loves you. Another imperative also follows. Often stamped onto Pentecostal print media, with an allusion to sin as well as the hunt, it announces: escape for your life. One effect of this faith is a growing network of informal and largely unregulated Pentecostal drug rehabilitation centers. These sites warehouse users against their will inside of onetime garages, factories, and apartment buildings. Each has been repurposed for rehabilitation with razor wire, steel bars, and iron gates. Inside, pastors practice teoterapia, or theological therapy. This is a mix of Pentecostal theology, twelve-step programming, and self-help psychology. Its working assumption is that captivity will give way to conversion. It does not. Yet this bald fact has not slowed down the growth of these centers, and for good reason. Again, these centers provide a practical solution to a concrete problem. Drug use is up. State resources are down. And Pentecostalism is the discourse of change. [Sound familiar?] The net result is a shadow carceral system infused with Pentecostal imperatives about not just sin and salvation but also about who can be hunted and why. It is a theological construction that carries concrete consequences. Today more Guatemalans find themselves literally tied up in Pentecostal drug rehabilitation centers than locked up in maximum-security prisons.” Lest the reader think that, not being Pentecostal or Guatemalan, Ohio’s Governor along with the current US Attorney General are not in the hunt. Au contraire, “there are some thirty thousand men in Philadelphia alone with warrants out for their arrest.” (O’Neill)

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