PICKERINGTON - If there's no required education on addiction for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade by January 2018, Attorney General Mike DeWine said he would make it mandatory if he's governor.
"We can't let this go," he said, "We've got to get in front of it. We've got to start now. We've got to move forward."
DeWine addressed a group of journalists Wednesday at Ohio University Pickerington during a conference on how to cover the opioid crisis.
"I don't know any other way of doing it," DeWine said. "It can be done without a great burden on the schools."
DeWine said the curriculum would not just focus on heroin and opioids, but rather a more holistic approach.
DeWine said his office sent information to superintendents in each of Ohio's districts in February. Though he's hoping schools adopt some of this curriculum voluntarily, he said it should be required if needed. The education would be age appropriate each year, with a scientific backing that shows the program works.
The current opioid crisis is different than other drug epidemics, DeWine said, because it's impacting everyone. The problem is more than just addiction, but also in part a change in culture and a perfect storm of people left addicted to prescription pain medication after the state cracked down on pill mills. Doctors treated pain as the fifth vital sign. After they stopped prescribing these potent drugs, these people turned to heroin.
"The drug dealers have a great business model," DeWine said. "It's a business model that's killing a lot of Ohioans and making them a lot of money."
DeWine said that overdose deaths are expected to rise significantly this year but despite the wave that's still rolling through the state's communities, there is hope.
"Even though the wave continues to come, there are people saving lives in their communities every single day," DeWine said.
The communities faring the best throughout the epidemic, DeWine said, are the ones where people have watched it get so bad and decided to do something themselves. Grassroots efforts are making meaningful change, change the Attorney General's office is trying to support.
Since about half of the children in foster care throughout the state are there because one or both parents are addicted to drugs, DeWine announced a program in March to help those families.
The program is expanding to four more counties more than the original 14. The pilot program will provide specialized services, like intensive trauma counseling, to children. It will also offer increased access to drug treatment to parents of children referred to the program. The goal is to help parents fight addiction, treat their children's trauma and get them back home faster.
So far $5.5 million has been committed to the pilot.
DeWine's heroin unit has two prongs: law enforcement and community outreach. Though he's not able to talk specifics about how the Attorney General is helping smaller to mid-size police department find dealers, DeWine said that much of the community outreach his office is helping communities realize they have a drug problem.
From there, it's developing grassroots efforts that will work for that specific community, along with working with everyone invested in the community, from law enforcement, mental health boards to faith-based organizations.
Moving forward, DeWine said he hopes to expand the pilot program for kids of addicts across the state.
"We have a crisis," DeWine said. "If ten people were dying a day of some strange new plague, we would treat is as a health crisis."