Calling his opponent’s response to the heroin epidemic “too little and too late,” candidate David Pepper wants the state to spend more to provide local agencies funding for drug treatment.
A Democrat running for the office of Ohio Attorney General, Pepper blasted Mike Dewine for declaring heroin a crisis in October 2013, saying that the delayed and seemingly ceremonial announcement proved the office is out of touch, and doesn’t have the modern technology to analyze crime data as it’s happening.
“We have state leaders saying, ‘You guys need to wake up,”’ Pepper said during a recent interview with the Wilmington News Journal. “What they should be saying is, ‘Here is some answers, here is some support and here are some resources.’”
A former Hamilton County commissioner and City of Cincinnati council member, Pepper said he understands the fiscal constraints local governments are under as the state has reduced its local government funding. His proposed plan isn’t just spending money — it returns that funding back to the locals, he says.
The plan includes treating heroin as a public health crisis, suing pharmaceutical companies, creating a multi-agency heroin task force and targeting drug dealers for tougher charges.
“We want to make sure a dealer knows that when we trace it back — and we will trace it back — you’re going to be in court looking at involuntary manslaughter at least, and not simply felony five drug dealing,” Pepper said. “It’s just not tough enough for the consequences that these folks are causing.”
Pepper’s plan also includes broadening access to naloxone, an anti-overdose drug also known by its brand name, Narcan. Specifically, he wants Narcan in the hands of all Ohio’s first responders, including law enforcement.
Last month, the News Journal published a three-day series on the heroin epidemic. As reported in one story focusing on Narcan, in Clinton County the drug is used by EMTs, but not law enforcement.
“The idea that we’re showing up to scenes, and we know there’s a drug that can save that life, and we’re purposefully not having it in the hands of people who could use it to save that life … to me we’re literally watching people die who we could save,” Pepper said.
Critics to broadening access to Narcan have said a nearby antidote would encourage drug use, especially if the drug would become available publicly in Ohio as it is in New Jersey.
In response, Pepper added, “There are concerns if you get it too broadly, and I think that’s a fair conversation that needs to happen.”
DeWine, a Republican, created a $1 million heroin unit late last year within his office to address the problem. He has said Pepper is politicizing the issue and that his office has responded to the problem with overall improvements in his office.