COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio is the epicenter of a national opioid addiction crisis, and state and federal officials floated several ideas this week for how to lessen the wide-ranging effects of the problem.
More than 4,300 Ohioans died in 2016 from opioid overdoses, and the death toll hasn’t shown signs of slowing down.
Days after President Donald Trump announced he wanted tougher penalties for drug dealers and stronger border protection, two Trump administration officials announced new federal money for addiction research and job training for people affected by the opioid crisis and those working in mental health and addiction services.
Meanwhile, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine touted the benefits of chiropractic care and alternative therapies to manage pain.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said Thursday that research will be crucial in stemming the number of overdose deaths and treating the root causes of addiction.
Collins spoke with Ohio State University professors and researchers awarded a piece of the university’s $1.35 million opioid research initiative. Eight projects received a total $491,282 to examine medication assisted treatment, opioid use among domestic violence survivors, alternative pain therapies and other aspects of opioid abuse.
Collins said the federal budget bill approved Thursday includes $500 million for NIH to better study pain management and opioid abuse.
Collins said the agency fast-tracks research that can have a real impact, such as developing nasal sprays of naloxone that are easier and safer to administer to someone experiencing an overdose. Now, Collins said, researchers are working on new formulations of that drug to reverse overdoses of fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, and for longer-lasting drugs that block the effects of opioids.
Collins said it’s not realistic to think individuals who have fallen into addiction can simply decide with willpower to end their dependence on opioids.
“Opioid use leads to a rewiring of a brain,” Collins said.
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said opioid addiction has forced too many people out of the workforce.
Acosta announced a $21 million pilot program on Tuesday that will award seven to 10 grants for job training efforts for workers affected by the opioid crisis or for workforce development in jobs that prevent or address problems related to opioid abuse.
“The importance of a job and work in reducing opioid abuse cannot be overstated,” Acosta said after touring Maryhaven, an addiction recovery center on Columbus’ south side. “The Department of Labor’s grant pilot program will focus on returning individuals impacted by opioids to the workplace.”
The Department of Labor cites studies that show opioid use may be responsible for up to 20 percent of the decline in labor force participation among men aged 25-54.
Alternative pain treatments
The Ohio State Chiropractic Association is calling for greater awareness of chiropractor care for pain patients. Pat Ensminger, a Warren chiropractor, said chiropractors have had great success treating back pain, neck pain and headaches without medication.
Ensminger said the association wants to partner with hospitals and pain management clinics to offer chiropractic care as an alternative to prescribing painkillers. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation now requires injured workers to undergo 60 days of chiropractic or other alternative care before receiving spinal fusion surgery.
DeWine held a press conference Tuesday to endorse the chiropractors’ message. DeWine, a Republican running for governor this year, said the culture around pain and prescribing drugs as an initial response needs to change.
DeWine convened a group of insurance and managed care companies to examine alternative pain methods. The group is expected to release its recommendations in the coming weeks.