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DeWine to Chambers: Change in culture needed to help drug problem

Attorney general offers insights on heroin epidemic, progress in DNA processing

by Andrew Schunk | Editor Published: October 25, 2016 5:38 PM

Solon -- Ohio's top prosecutor has instituted changes in "the culture of government" that have drastically improved the turnaround time for DNA evidence in criminal cases.

But on another front, it is a change in culture that's still badly needed that keeps Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine awake at night.

"I define the job of attorney general as each and every day trying to protect Ohio families," DeWine told 130 business-minded people from the Twinsburg, Aurora and Solon chambers of commerce Oct. 19 at Signature of Solon. "But what keeps me awake at night? The quick response is the opiate problem. But the real problem is the opportunity gap."

The heroin epidemic, which DeWine says is claiming six to eight Ohio lives per day, is multi-faceted.

Doctors are over-prescribing pain killers, which can lead to opiate addiction, and to heroin addiction. Pharmacies, in turn, are producing more opiates.

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And the Mexican drug cartels "are controlling it all the way to the street level."

"[The cartels] are the perfect business model," DeWine said. "They are very business-friendly. But we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem ... it's a supply-and-demand issue."

DeWine, who sat on President Ronald Reagan's Drug Free Commission in the 1980s, says Ohio needs a grass roots effort from the business community, churches and schools.

"The face of heroin is the face of Ohio," DeWine said. "It's everywhere, and it's more likely to be a suburban problem than it is an inner-city problem."

DeWine urged members of the Northeast Ohio business community to support this more holistic approach.

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"The business community needs to be on board," DeWine said. "What kids are often most excited about is their job. Unless something intervenes, kids will never live up to their full potential and Ohio can't be a great state if our kids aren't living up to their full potential."

During his 20-minute talk, DeWine also said he is "proud of the people in the BCI labs" and their progress in processing DNA evidence in criminal cases.

"The day I took office, it would have taken 125 days to get results back. Now it's down to 22 days," he said. "At the time, there were 180 steps in the process to go from police to prosecution. Now there are about 80 steps.

"This told me that the culture had changed."

As a result, five times as much DNA is being processed now, DeWine said, about 100 cases every week, including more than 14,000 backlogged cases and rape kits.

With the statute of limitations at 20 years for rape cases (the state is trying to push that to 25 years), the implications for unprocessed DNA evidence is "life or death," DeWine says.

"We owe this to our victims," DeWine said.

Twinsburg Police Chief Chris Noga, who attended the talk, said he appreciates DeWine's two-fold approach in battling the drug problem.

"It's not just tackling it from a criminal justice standpoint, there is a culture change that he is addressing as well," Noga said. "He has been very supportive of law enforcement. He comes in, knows what he wants to do and accomplishes it."

Aurora Police Chief Brian Byard said venues like the Chamber event are "key in getting the message out."

"[DeWine] hit the nail on the head," Byard said. "The criminal approach versus a change in culture is an important distinction."

Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin, who helped bring DeWine in for the talk, said the speech "was timely and full of valuable information and insights."

"Mike DeWine is one of the most dedicated, down-to-earth and congenial public officials I know, who has accomplished much in his four decades of public service," said Womer Benjamin. "Mike has focused on protecting Ohio's children and families, and as attorney general ... has been at the forefront of fighting prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic."

DeWine, of Cedarville, became Ohio's 50th attorney general in 2010 when he defeated Richard Cordray for the position.

He has served as U.S. senator from Ohio (1994-2006); as Ohio's 59th lieutenant governor (1990-1994); and as a congressman from Ohio's 7th district (1982-1990).

Email: aschunk@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9424

Twitter: @twinsburgohio

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