Ohio's prescription drug abuse epidemic - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

Ohio's prescription drug abuse epidemic

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It's a crisis parents need to sit down and talk to their kids about.

Designer drugs are turning deadly in epidemic proportions.

In Ohio more people die from prescription drug overdoses than motor vehicle accidents.    

13 ABC's Christine Long is uncovering the shocking numbers.

Last year in Ohio more than 1,500 people died from accidental prescription drug overdoses.  In fact, in the last 10 years there has been a 400 percent increase in the state.

Teenage victims are simply finding the painkillers in their parents' medicine cabinets.

We talked to the Governor and the Director of the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus about what is being done to attack the problem.

We also sat down for an exclusive interview with a mom here in Holland who almost lost her family and her life because of her addiction.

"This is the most horrible, horrible thing to get off of once you start," says April Schalow.

For one year April Schalow hid a dark secret from her husband.

The mother of four from Holland had a $20 a day habit abusing Vicodin and Percocet with other family members.

She first got the prescription from a doctor after suffering severe back pain from her cleaning job.  Then she got it from a dentist.

"After that we bought it off the street," says Schalow.

Christine asks, "Is it easy to get on the street?"

Schalow answers, "Very ease. It seems like every body we know is either taking it or selling it."

Schalow eventually lost so much weight it was painful to take a bath.

"It gets to the point where if you don't have that drug you can't function," says Schalow." You can't even make a phone call or get your kids dressed because you need that to feel normal."

"How do you know when April was lying? Well, she was talking," says Kyle Schalow, April's husband.

April's husband Kyle told his wife he wanted a divorce.

"I gotta do it," says Kyle." I can't stay. I can't put the kids through it no more."

That's what inspired April to write Kyle a letter confessing her addiction.

"It's like a big deep breath. OK. I can deal with this," says Kyle.

This epidemic has become so out of control in the state of Ohio that the Kasich Administration has made combating the deadly problem one of its highest priorities.

"We've shut down pill mills, bad doctors have been disciplined," says Governor John Kasich. "It's a big issue, we're making progress. But it's a big, big problem."

The death rate in Ohio is 12.2 for every 100,000 people.

Lucas County has the fourth highest rate in the state with 295 people dead in four years.

"I'm working with the prescribers, the people writing scripts, to see  if we can put fewer pills out there," says Theodore Wymyslo, M.D., the Director of the Ohio Department of Health.

Dr. Wymyslo is calling for responsible prescribing.

And while he says there is no system to prevent doctor shopping, there is an online system called OARRS available to doctors to help find it.

"I can actually check to see if a patient is already getting  prescriptions for controlled substances from other docs, when they got them, where they're getting them filled and we can even tell if they're paying cash for them or if it's being paid by their insurance company," says Dr. Wymyslo.

He says the lack of availability of these designer drugs could drive addicts back to heroin, but leaders need to start somewhere.

Dr. Wymyslo is also calling for parents to lock their medicine cabinets.

"A lot of the kids we lose are first time users. They've never taken this stuff before. They're just going for a high once and they don't wake up," says Dr. Wymyslo.

Here in Holland April Schalow has been clean for ten months.  She's telling her story to help other addicts quit.

Back in September the Schalows were featured in an episode of Oprah's Lifeclass on the OWN Network.

Several days later the entire family also volunteered at the Springfield Township Fire Station on Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

The national event is organized annually by the US Drug Enforcement Agency to get unused or expired drugs out of family medicine cabinets and off the streets.

Next the Schalows are collecting old pill bottles to build a memorial in honor of the victims of prescription drug abuse.  The boxes of bottles are coming in from all over the country. Many of them contain messages from people who have lost loved ones.

"It breaks my heart reading these," says April Schalow.  "On the other hand it keeps me sober because I don't want to die. This is life and death for people."

To learn more about the memorial and how to contribute follow the link to the "RX Epidemic" Facebook Event or to "Shh it's a secret but everyone knows" Facebook community page.

Overview of Ohio's Opioid Overdose Problem:


Main page:


Statewide data:


County Level data:


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