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GOP health care plans will worsen opioid scourge

The hopelessly sheltered people in Washington who have been writing new health care legislation in total secrecy are clueless when it comes to the depth, scope and impact of such devastating drugs as heroin, fentanyl and cocaine.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell leaves the chamber

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell leaves the chamber after announcing the release of the Republicans' healthcare bill which represents the party's long-awaited attempt to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. The measure represents the Senate GOP's effort to achieve a top tier priority for President Donald Trump and virtually all Republican members of Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Photo Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

It’s true. This feels like the center of the opioid crisis in America. But so do West Virginia and Maryland and Massachusetts and hamlets with such names as Pleasantville, Welch and Delray Beach.

It is foolish to deny this is a catastrophe; ridiculous to think it is not affecting every American family. Believing that overdosing and addiction only happen to the poor and disadvantaged or celebrities such as Prince and Carrie Fisher is even worse than arguing that extreme droughts, floods, blizzards and other anomalies - such as the air being too hot for planes to get enough lift to take off - are not related to climate change.

The hopelessly sheltered people in Washington who have been writing new health care legislation in total secrecy are clueless when it comes to the depth, scope and impact of such devastating drugs as heroin, fentanyl and cocaine.

It’s so easy to get hooked on illegal drugs in this society that thousands of once-promising young Americans have all but thrown their lives away by the time they are 18. What has changed is that fentanyl made in China is coming into the United States and added to $5-a-pop heroin doses, killing people like a plague. It’s so dangerous that unprotected police officers responding to overdoses can overdose themselves just by touching and trying to revive the victims.

The argument of Attorney General Jeff Sessions is that more addicts should go to jail, reversing policies of leniency in cases involving nonviolent drug offenders with limited criminal activity. Instead of ordering more doses of naloxone, which can save the lives of overdose victims, he has decreed pursuit of the harshest jail terms possible. What a dreadful, moralizing, odious little power junkie Sessions is.

The other popular idea out of the ruling class is to save money for tax cuts for multimillionaires by providing less money for drug treatment centers and mental health care even though one out of every four Americans will have some sort of mental ailment this year, whether it’s depression, anxiety or schizophrenia.

First responders are overwhelmed. Officials in Dayton, Montgomery’s county seat, say their county is the No. 1 drug overdose capital per capita in the nation. The county is on track to record 800 drug overdose deaths this year, according to the sheriff’s office. One reason is the nexus of Interstates 75 and 70, making it easy for drug dealers to get in and out with their lethal wares.

In nearby Springfield, a pleasant little city of 60,000 just 26 miles away from Dayton, spillover drug dealing has resulted in 77 suspected drug overdose deaths this year as of June. That compares with 79 drug deaths for all of 2016.

Ohio alone is expecting 10,000 overdose deaths this year, more than the entire nation had in 1990. Medical personnel say it is a medical crisis. Yet doctors and hospitals in the greater Dayton area fear the health care bill being stealthily put together in the Senate will cut their budgets by $2 billion over the next decade. Montgomery County would get $1.45 billion less in Medicaid reimbursement if the House bill’s cuts are adopted by the Senate. Over one-third of those covered by Ohio Medicaid are addicts.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. A total of 52,404 people died from prescription drug and heroin overdoses in 2015, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which also said 25.5 million Americans over the age of 12 had a substance abuse disorder that year.

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality just reported that there were 1.27 million emergency room visits or hospital stays for opioid-related issues in 2014, a staggering number.

Russia and North Korea are worrisome threats. But more terrifying is the diabolically malignant opioid crisis. The next few weeks of congressional votes on a new health care bill are enormously important. It’s possible nothing will be done, and thousands more will die in the killing fields of Montgomery County and every corner of America. No place is safe from this epidemic.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.

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