COLUMBUS -- Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine and other state officials continued their push Tuesday for greater community discussions of the consequences of drug abuse, given the increasing number of Ohioans becoming addicted to and overdosing on heroin.
"There's no group in our state that is immune from the tragedy," DeWine said. "It doesn't matter what kind of income you have, it doesn't matter what race you are, it doesn't matter (where you live)."
He added concerning heroin, "They're selling it literally as cheap as you can buy a pizza, and literally they will deliver it to your house."
DeWine, Gov. John Kasich and other state and school officials offered comments during a summit at a high school in suburban Columbus aimed at drawing attention to prescription painkiller and heroin abuse and addiction. More than 150 people from three dozen districts attended, including representatives of Aurora, Hudson and Twinsburg city schools.
The governor and others have spearheaded comparable sessions around the state emphasizing the need to explain to schoolchildren the dangers and consequences of drug use.
DeWine and Kasich have drawn criticism from the Democrats who hope to unseat them in November for their handling of the heroin epidemic.
"Heroin deaths in Ohio have been increasing 50-60 percent per year for the last three years, and while other states are stepping up, Ohio's response to date has been anemic," David Pepper, former Hamilton County commissioner who is challenging DeWine, said in a released statement. "Instead of more meetings, pep talks and lectures to local government, we need action."
He added, "As attorney general, I will provide more treatment, hold dealers accountable for heroin deaths and restore resources and training local communities need to battle this crisis."
DeWine declined to respond to Pepper's comments -- "We're in the arena every day, and we're doing what we can do," he said.
DeWine has established a heroin unit in his office to focus on the issue. He and Kasich and state lawmakers say they have made headway on prescription drug abuse, revoking doctor's licenses and shutting down pill mills, for example.
State officials also have increased their efforts to talk about drug addiction in schools, explaining to youngsters the dangers and consequences of drugs.
"We're in your schools, we've spoken now to over 14,000 students," Kasich said, adding, "We're going to do as much as we possibly can to be in as many school districts. ... We want the leaders of the school to be with their peers and to say it is cool to not do drugs, because if you do drugs you're putting a ball and chain around your ankle."
DeWine urged school board members and district representatives Tuesday to work with parents and citizens groups to tackle drug issues.
"We're not going to arrest our way out of this problem," he said, adding, "We need treatment. We certainly need law enforcement. But ultimately the most important thing I think is education and prevention, and it's got to come from the grassroots."