Southeast Ohio has witnessed the devastating consequences of the opioid epidemic as much as any region in the state.
In our area, it is not just a talking point at election time, but a daily struggle for many of our neighbors. It has resulted in the deaths of loved ones and families being torn apart.
Fortunately, thanks to a steadfast and bipartisan commitment in the state legislature, I believe we have taken productive steps to combat this terrible scourge.
The most recent state budget invested more than $180 million into helping local communities combat opioid addiction through a wide variety of programs so that people who are ready to seek help can more quickly access the services they need.
This is part of a larger, long-term effort that has yielded positive results. Pill mills have shut down, access to naloxone has increased and prescriptions are better regulated. In fact, in 2017, prescription opioid-related overdose deaths hit an eight-year low, and heroin deaths reached a four-year low.
However, as the drug epidemic evolves, families and law enforcement across the state are now being confronted by the prevalence of fentanyl, a drug so deadly that it, along with drugs such as carfentanil, were involved in 71 percent of all unintentional overdose deaths last year.
That is why Ohioans should be fiercely opposed to the hollow proposals contained in Issue 1, which would keep drug dealers who sell heroin and cocaine laced with fentanyl on the streets.
The plan is largely backed by billionaires and special interests from other states like California, who spent more than $4 million just to put the issue on the Ohio ballot.
That out-of-state and out-of-touch special interests believe they are the ones best suited to determine our state's drug laws should be enough to give all Ohioans pause. But what's far worse than the initial motive are the ideas that the plan promotes.
Issue 1 would give Ohio some of the most lenient and unaccountable drug laws in the country.
Furthermore, it would enshrine these new laws into our state's constitution, meaning that no matter how harmful some provisions are, they could not be easily changed or reversed. This could lead Ohio down a dangerous path for many years to come.
Issue 1 does not just apply to drug offenses. For example, individuals convicted of human trafficking, kidnapping and felonious assault, among others, would be eligible to have their sentences reduced by up to 25 percent.
Most people agree that Ohio cannot overcome the opioid crisis solely through incarceration and punishment.
Those struggling with addiction need access to treatment, and the state legislature, in working with local communities, has taken several important steps to expand treatment options for those individuals.
In talking with those on the front lines, one of the most impactful solutions is the use of certified drug courts, which in many cases allow non-violent drug offenders to gain treatment and rehabilitation in lieu of conviction, the goal being to help them once again become productive members of society. However, Issue 1 poses a direct threat to our drug courts and their ability to effectively aid those most in need of treatment.
While we must continue our commitment to helping the addicted find treatment, we simply cannot turn away from enforcing strong penalties on the drug dealers and violent offenders who are the primary cause of the problem in the first place.
Passage of Issue 1 threatens to curtail this progress by hogtying judges and making it more difficult to bring serious criminals to justice. This not only puts the safety of Ohioans at risk, but it also damages our state's hard-fought efforts to overcome the opioid addiction epidemic once and for all.
I urge the people of Southeast Ohio to join me in voting NO on Issue 1.
State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Gallipolis, serves in the Ohio's 93rd House District and he is currently Speaker of the House. Learn more at www.ohiohouse.gov/ryan-smith.