Jackson County was the focus of major news stories earlier this month in both The Washington Post and The Columbus Dispatch. And it wasn’t for positive reasons as both newspapers published in-depth stories about the opioid-pain-pill epidemic and spotlighted Jackson County as one of top per capita consumers.

The basis for the news coverage was statistics released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealing the number of prescription pain pills supplied in the United States during the period from 2006 to 2012, which was then analyzed and publicized by The Washington Post as part of a multi-article series.

When the county-by-county breakdowns were figured, Jackson County ended up at the top of the list of all 88 Ohio counties. Incredibly, the “average” Jackson Countian received 749 pain pills over that seven-year period -- a staggering average of 107 for just a single year. The statewide average was 295 pain pills per person. On the other end of the numbers, Holmes County residents (that’s Amish country) received only an average of nine pills per year. The story was front-page news in The Dispatch and included a map of Ohio with Jackson County bordered in red. Meanwhile, The Post thought it important enough to send a reporter and photographer to Jackson County for insightful interviews.

While it’s true that drug abuse is a scourge than knows no geographic, demographic or socioeconomic boundaries, the DEA statistics and news stories they have spawned should be a slap-in-the-face type wake-up call to local public officials and residents that the problem was much worse here in Jackson County than most other places. The cold, cruel numbers cannot and should not be ignored.

On the positive side, local law enforcement officials feel the worst of the pain-pill epidemic is over. Legislative and law enforcement crackdowns have been at least partially successful in shutting down some of the “pill mills” where pills were recklessly and illegally prescribed in profuse numbers. With the supply of pills reduced, however, many of the same drug addicts have turned to heroin and methamphetamine, which have become more available on the illegal drug market. And the root problem – illegal drug use and abuse – remains.

Drug abusers – whether they pop pills or shoot needles into their arms – put their lives on a destructive track, and as other statistics tells us, can result in their death by overdose. Devastating collateral damage includes families being torn apart and children being put at greater risk, much heightened crime rates, employers being unable to find and retain reliable workers; and it creates a public-relations problem for a county, which in many ways, is truly a great place to call home.

The good news is that many responsible officials and residents in Jackson County are already doing something about it. We will name just a few examples.

Jackson County Municipal Court Judge Mark Musick and his staff operate and are deeply committed to a Drug Court program which is aimed at allowing certain drug-related offenders an opportunity to get right with their lives by getting off drugs. When it works – and sometimes it does – repeat crimes against the public may be avoided and the one-time offender becomes a productive member of society. It’s not a stretch at all to say that this program has saved lives, many of them.

On the community front, the Gallia-Jackson-Meigs Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services agency (ADAMHS) has worked with local agencies and individuals to form the Jackson County Substance-Abuse Prevention and Resource Coalition (SPARC) with the noble stated mission, “to work as a community to reduce and prevent addiction through education and support.” Meetings are open to the public and are held monthly at Holzer Medical Center-Jackson and include participation from stakeholders and other elements of the community. In its efforts to reach out to the general public, SPARC conducted the second of four public panel discussions on the topic of substance abuse.

On another community front, the husband/wife duo of Justin and Amy Oyer continue to build an amazing and ever-growing ministry in Jackson, which operates from the W4C Hope Center on Mound Street in Jackson which has the motto, “where addiction ends and hope begins.” The Oyers are currently soliciting bids to build a new addiction recovery inpatient center on Chillicothe Pike just outside Jackson.

However, it should be clear that the problem calls for a communitywide response and effort. Some progress has been made and there have been some truly inspirational success stories and some very good and caring people have jumped in with both feet to tackle the drug scourge. However, drug use and abuse in Jackson County still constitutes a true community crisis and people are dying every day, whether you see them or not.

While it’s not a pleasant proposition to confront this issue, it’s simply wrong and even irresponsible to ignore it. Sticking your head in the sand or letting someone else do all the heavy lifting won’t solve anything. With a problem as complex and pervasive as this, the solution will indeed require across-the-board support in our local communities. Even if you’re standing on the sidelines, it’s important to understand the problems and be supportive of those who are trying to do something about it.

What can you do? Support the efforts of local law enforcement agencies to enforce the laws and further curb illegal drug trafficking and activity -- don’t be afraid to be their eyes and ears. We need to get the dealers off the streets! Support the efforts of worthy anti-drug organizations like W4C Hope Center with donations or by volunteering your time. Take the time to learn more about the local drug problem and join in that discussion by attending an upcoming SPARC meeting or informational event. Lobby your governmental leaders at every level that you expect them to provide whatever assistance they can.

Only we can change those negative headlines. We need to start accepting the truth and doing something about it -- and right now!

AN EDITORIAL, Written on

Behalf of THE TELEGRAM,

Submitted By Editor Pete Wilson