By Benjamin Smid
At 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 30th, Cedarville University’s Dixon Ministry Center will be the venue for a national town hall on the opioid crisis.
The opioid crisis is claiming hundreds of lives each day in the United States. Over the past decade, opioid overdose deaths have skyrocketed due to increased availability of the drugs and unnecessary prescriptions. In 2017, opioid overdoses killed almost 50,000 people, a nearly 100% increase in four years according to government reports. In Ohio, death rates have increased accordingly, tripling since 2010.
Eric Bolling of Sinclair Broadcasting and former Fox News contributor is taking steps to fight the epidemic. The epidemic became personal to Bolling after losing his son to an opioid overdose in September of 2017.
Bolling has started hosting national town halls around the country with the purpose of seeking solutions to the opioid crisis. His next stop is Cedarville, Ohio to host the Town Hall: Your Voice. Your Future, concerning the opioid crisis. The event will be held in the Jeremiah Chapel at Cedarville University on the 30th of January.
Mark Weinstein, Cedarville University’s Executive Director of Public Relations and organizer of the event, said that the goal of the town hall is “to have an open, honest dialogue among leaders who are aware of the opioid crisis.” Dr. Marc Sweeney, Founding Dean of the School of Pharmacy at Cedarville University as well as one of the panelists for the coming event, said that the intent is “to raise awareness of the depth and breadth of the issue,” and also, “to rally individuals behind identifying genuine solutions.”
Cedarville University is a perfect location for this town hall to be taking place. Both Weinstein and Dr. Sweeney mentioned two reasons.
First, many people consider Dayton, Ohio to be the epicenter of the opioid crisis. The intersection at I-70 and I-75 just north of Dayton is an optimal location for drug trafficking as it is fairly easy to enter and exit the country from that point. Fentanyl and heroin are delivered to Dayton directly from Mexico via I-75. In addition to the large quantity of opioids available, the drugs are also cheaper to purchase as they don’t have to be transported far after leaving the interstate.
Secondly, Cedarville’s School of Pharmacy has been working on programs through the governor’s office to address the problem. Dr. Sweeney confirmed that the school has sent both faculty and students into middle schools and high schools to show students the severity of the problem and how to take precautions against it. Considering their significant involvement in educating young people in an effort to reduce opioid deaths, it seems appropriate that the town hall be held at the university.
While many people know that the opioid crisis has been getting worse over the years, not a lot of people are aware of the what has been done to fight it. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain to better help doctors know when to prescribe opioids to patients. Dr. Sweeney said that the primary issue is not that opioids are incredibly addictive, but rather, doctors are prescribing opioids to people who don’t need them.
States have also begun to address the issue. In March of 2016, Massachusetts passed legislature, becoming the first state to restrict doctors’ prescription of opioids. As of January, 2019, 34 states have passed similar laws, with Ohio following suit in August of 2017.
From 2012-2017, the number of opioid doses prescribed to patients in Ohio decreased by 225 million, a 28% reduction, compared to a 23% decrease nationwide. While prescription opioid overdose deaths continued to increase nationally, for Ohio, 2017 marked a six-year low. The laws are making a difference. However, fentanyl deaths have increased from 84 in 2013 to 3,431 in 2017, and accounted for over 70% of all opioid related deaths during that year. Thus, opioid overdose deaths in Ohio continue to increase.
“It’s a complex problem, so you are not going to have a solution, you need multiple solutions… so we’ve got to generate momentum on every front in order to address this,” Dr. Sweeney said. In addition to prescription laws and increased awareness, improved technology has made it easier to monitor patient access to opioids and doctors’ prescription of them. Clearly, our efforts are making a difference, but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.
Regarding the format of the national town hall on Wednesday, Eric Bolling and several panelists, including Marc Sweeney, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and several other figures, will discuss solutions to the opioid epidemic. According to Weinstein, it will play out like a TV program. Bolling will primarily do one-on-one conversations with each of the panelists for 8-10 minutes, discussing their stories and potential solutions to the epidemic. Students from Cedarville’s Pharmacy, Nursing, Allied Health, Political Science, and Criminal Justice programs, if time permits, will asked questions from the floor of the chapel.
When asked about where he sees the state of the opioid epidemic further down the road, Dr. Sweeney responded, “It will likely improve, because we are drawing so much attention to it… Anytime you put effort and energy towards something, you’re going to see improvement.”
Benjamin Smid is a sophomore Communication major and Campus News writer for Cedars. He enjoys singing tight harmonies, managing schedules, and having deep conversations of any kind.