In Focus: The Sprial of Poverty and Drug Abuse

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All across Ohio, one of the biggest problems is in drug abuse and addiction throughout the state, especially with prescription drugs. Nowhere has the problem become more dangerous and damaging than in Appalachian Ohio.

Appalachian Ohio, which includes counties as far West as Clermont, as far south as Lawrence and as far north as Columbiana, has experienced a sharp incerase in addiction and overdose rates of drugs and alcohol during the last decade. In fact, when you look at the poorest counties in state, in Southeast Ohio and the surrounding Appalachian counties you also find the highest addiction rates in the state.

Poverty and drug abuse become a vicious cycle, in which more poverty is created by drug abuse and fighting back becomes less possible because of low local budgets for treatment and law enforcement.

There is major debate with limited resources to fight back, is the best way to combat the growing drug problem education, incarceration or rehabilitation–and will any of those work without combating the poverty at the heart of the problem.

Funding for drug abuse

Ohio took in more than $200 million in federal funding to help fight the drug problem back in 2010, allocated in various grants and awards for programs in the state.

But the debate rages about which programs get that funding and how it is distributed.

Major Crime Unit officer Sgt. Bill Gilkey argues for, “More officers, more people to work these cases.” However, Gilkey says that with the current economic climate, this isn't as possible as it once was.

Doctor Joe Gay, the Executive Director of Health Recovery Services in Athens explains that in this state just four out of every 100 dollars going toward fighting the drug problem goes toward treatment services, the rest of the money goes toward enforcement, trial costs and incarceration.

Comparatively the cost of putting a person through a rehabilitation program is much cheaper, just 25 percent of the cost, compared to incarceration.

Effectiveness at preventing future abuse

Treatment advocates say rehabilitation is a more effective option than just throwing drug offenders in jail. Studies have shown that even court-ordered rehab has become more effective in keeping offenders away from drugs than jail time has been.

More recently those combating the problem say it is a combination of the two which works well–that's what Scioto Country Prosecutor Mark Kuhn thinks.

Prosecutor Kuhn is located in Portsmouth, the epicenter of Appalachia Ohio's drug epidemic. The city and Scioto county have fought an uphill battle perscription pill abuse and illegal distribution for the better part of a decade, but the problem stretches back even farther than that.

The county has seen an endless number of drug offenders in years past and has dealt with the issue of incarceration versus rehabilitation for years. In the past 20 years, the number of people in state prisons for drug offenses increased by 550 percent. On top of that, 83 percent drug arrests are because of possession of narcatics alone, creating quite a strain on the prison systems.


One issue that everyone seems to pretty much agree on, Sgt. Gilkey explains, is that education about drugs at an early age is vital and can help the entire community.

Education has been a large part in the war against drugs since the 1980s and beyond, but how has it fared? Studies as far back as 2000 have shown that DARE, the program taught to tens of millions of students yearly, is not the most effective program by itself. 

The argument is that DARE has failed to evolve with the times, a stance held by Dr. William Hansen, who's research helped create the program. The studies have found that students who went through the program were no more likely to avoid drug use than those who didn't.

That's not to say, however, that education about drugs is completely ineffective. On the contrary, there are many programs out there that are quite beneficial through the use of more specific drug education.

As the drug problem in Appalachian Ohio continues to eat away at society, the region has started to ask the questions necessary in a debate over drugs and alcohol, and that's always the first step in the long road to finding a solution.