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As drug epidemic rages, more stories of addiction come to light

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: April 5, 2017 12:00 AM

COLUMBUS -- Do you know somebody addicted to drugs? Or who has died as a result, either through an unintentional overdose or other destructive behavior that resulted?

I'm betting you probably do.

Not too long ago, we might have a conversation about those folks, using hushed terms. When I was a kid, we didn't talk about such things too loudly -- too much stigma or embarrassment or something. There were whispers and knowing looks but little in the way of explanation.

That's not the case anymore, and that's a good thing, given the growing number of overdose deaths and people getting hooked on heroin and other drugs.

You can't walk through the Statehouse during any given week and not meet someone who has a story to tell about their struggles with addiction or loved ones who are no longer with us because of theirs.

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It's startling at times and poignant. And constant.

Take a press conference a few days ago, where lawmakers announced legislation aimed at cutting down on the number of painkillers being prescribed to Ohioans.

The bill is titled "Daniel's Law," in memory of Daniel Weidle, who overdosed after years of battling addiction. His father, Scott, was at the Statehouse to tell his son's story and urge lawmakers to clamp down on prescription painkillers, a gateway to heroin and other drugs.

Sen. Jay Hottinger (R-Newark) supports the legislation. At the same press conference, the senator talked about another young man, whose drug addiction started 35 years ago.

"Actually, it seemed like he had a lot going for him," Hottinger said. "He worked for his family's construction business. He drove a Corvette. He had his pilot's license and his own plane. He had a home, was married and had two children. And then he got injured on a construction job, and he had muscle relaxants prescribed for his back injury. Long story short, that led to an addiction of heroin. He ended up losing his job, his home, his Corvette, his plane. He lost his siblings, then his parents, then his wife, then his two children."

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That was Hottinger's father-in-law, whom the senator met only a couple of times -- at methadone clinics, where he was being treated.

"He never got a chance to walk his daughter, my wife down the aisle and never got to meet his grandchildren," Hottinger said.

The family would go months without hearing from him as he went from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. The last phone call came from one of Hottinger's wife's friends, who, in the course of genealogy research, determined that the man had died down in Florida.

It could be said that he was buried at the age of 57, Hottinger said, "but he really died at the age of 32, because that's when his addiction took hold."

It was the first time Hottinger had spoken about his father-in-law publicly.

There are others with comparable accounts that are now being told "over and over again in the state of Ohio and across this country," Hottinger said. "And what started off as an issue three or four decades ago grew into a problem, then it escalated into a crisis, and today it's morphed into a full-fledged epidemic."

State officials continue to move to address the issue, but it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Being willing to talk about the addiction and how it's affecting our family members, friends and neighbors is s step in the right direction.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media and The Vindicator. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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