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A letter from Dave Yost: Announcing new science-based efforts to fight addiction


Ohio is getting pounded by the opioid crisis, as many readers of this newsletter know firsthand.

And the deadly problem is expected to worsen.

Nationwide, fatal opioid overdoses are predicted  to rise to 82,000 a year by 2025, according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That’s 72% more than the 47,600 people who died of such overdoses in 2017. 

More lives are expected to be lost in the decade from 2016 through 2025 than the combined populations of Cleveland and Cincinnati — a staggering forecast when, already, resources are strained and the fight can seem endless and thankless for Ohio’s first responders.

Without the hard work of our police and EMTs, the state’s opioid-related deaths would be significantly higher and the damage to children, families and communities far worse. But even if the first responders could dedicate 100% of their time to battling opioids, they couldn’t solve this crisis alone.

That’s because they get involved after addiction has sunk its claws into people, twisting the normal functioning of their brains. Science tells us that the addiction is a disease. By this point, all sorts of damage has been done. 

The solution must encompass a holistic approach — one involving law enforcement, treatment, education and prevention. That last component calls for a thorough exploration of what we can do to stop more people from falling victim to opioid addiction. 

To that end, my office is undertaking two science-based initiatives aimed at prevention.

First, a study we organized seeks to identify whether a person might be susceptible to opioid addiction. With the help of Bowling Green State University and the emergency departments at the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University, we will search for a correlation between certain genetic markers and a predisposition to substance use disorder. 

As part of the 12- to 18-month study, cheek-swab DNA samples will be collected from 1,500 ER patients and then screened for 120 genes thought to be linked to opioid addiction. 

If successful, the study could help doctors choose the right pain therapy based on a patient’s unique DNA. Patients believed to be susceptible would be prescribed other pain treatments; those who aren’t could be prescribed opioid medication with more confidence. 

In other words: Let’s try to eliminate the issue before it becomes a problem.  

The research project will be led by my office’s new director of scientific research, Jon Sprague.

Sprague, head of the Ohio Attorney General’s Center for the Future of Forensic Science at Bowling Green, also will lead the second initiative: a task force charged with finding innovative prevention techniques and strategies. 

Sprague has invited experts in medicine and pharmacy practices, human relations, behavioral economics, data analysis, epidemiology and medical anthropology to join the Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention & Education, or SCOPE. 

Sprague and his team will seek to identify the circumstantial, environmental, social, behavioral and psychological factors that incline some people to substance use disorder. 

We want to know why it is that two people can take the same drug in the same dosage and only one becomes addicted. We want to know how to blunt opioids’ harmful effects.

Our hope is that, ultimately, breakthroughs in these areas will reduce the number of people who succumb to opioid dependence — and, correspondingly, the number who reach the crisis point and need help from first responders.

These breakthroughs also might offer better ways to treat those already in the grip of this plague.

As we work for new solutions, I thank all those who fight on the front lines of this battle — first responders, treatment and recovery experts, social services workers and children services staff.

You are saying no to death — and yes to hope.

Dave Yost

Ohio Attorney General