'At risk of losing an entire generation': Heroin/opiate Senate hearing in Cleveland

Heroin/opiate Senate hearing in Cleveland
Rob Portman listens during a Senate hearing in Cleveland on Friday. (Source: WOIO)
Rob Portman listens during a Senate hearing in Cleveland on Friday. (Source: WOIO)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Cleveland was the site of an official U.S. Senate committee hearing Friday, examining the impact of the opioid epidemic in Ohio.

More than half a dozen experts testified at the hearing held at University Hospitals in front of Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown. The experts ranged from Attorney General Mike DeWine to the program coordinator of Project DAWN, an opioid education and naloxone distribution group.

DeWine said he thought that K-12 schools should be doing something "every year" in class about opioid abuse.

Emily Metz, the program coordinator for Project DAWN, said "we are at risk of losing an entire generation."

Another person who testified was Rob Brandt, whose son Robby died of a heroin overdose when he was just 20 years old. Robby Brandt's family created an organization called "Robby's Voice" after his death with the goal of breaking the silence and stigma around opioid and heroin use and abuse.

Rob Brandt told Cleveland 19 News that they learned before Robby Brandt died, he had hoped to create a web site for recovering addicts. He never got a chance to, so his family is trying to do whatever they can.

"It's important because we know what it's like and we know what it's like to be there, and we cannot allow other families to walk on the same path we walk on," said Rob Brandt.

Robby's story was the same as so many others. He was prescribed painkillers when his wisdom teeth were removed in high school. Rob Brandt said from there it was like a switch was flipped in his son's brain.

"When he went back to school kids had meds at school. It's come from a doctor. He's taken them before and nothing has happened. It has to be safe and so yeah ok I'll try it," said Rob Brandt.  "His battle with heroin started in March of 2011 and it was six months - I mean we had six months and that was it."

Rob Brandt said throughout his son's struggles his family learned that addiction doesn't just affect the addict.

"Addiction is far harder on the family than it is on the addict," said Rob Brandt. "Dealing with a child that's an addict, so much of what you need to do is counter intuitive to parenting, and counter intuitive to what your heart and your gut is telling you to do."

Rob Brandt hopes his family's story will help others.

Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown said they had several goals in holding the hearing.  A big one was that it draws more public attention to the issue, the public health crisis, facing Ohio.

Experts said that more people die of overdoses each year in Ohio from drug overdoses than car accidents.

Brown also said that hearings also build public pressure to make sure the education about and the treatment of opiate and heroin addiction gets the funding it needs.

"In almost every community they're crying out for more help. They're crying out for help because no one expected the numbers to explode the way they have," said Brown.

Education is helpful for the best way to prevent opiate addiction.

"The best thing to do is to keep someone out of the funnel of addiction in the first place," said Portman.

But anything moving forward has to include plans for treatment and recovery as well.

Portman authored a bill he called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that would authorize nearly 80 million for prevention, education, treatment and recovery.

It would, Portman said, do the following:

  • Expand prevention and education efforts
  • Expand the availability of naloxone to law enforcement agencies and first responders
  • Expand resources to identify and treat people behind bars suffering with addiction
  • Expand prescription drug disposal sites
  • Launch evidence based treatment program
  • Launch medication assisted treatment and intervention demonstration program
  • Strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs

Portman said the bill passed the Senate, and he hopes it will come to a vote in the House by May and then be signed into law.

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