Senior Assistant Attorney General Aaron Haslam, who is leading the Attorney General’s prescription drug abuse initiative, shares his thoughts on the assignment and opiate abuse trends.
You were chosen for this role, in part, because of your experience dealing with the issue as Adams County prosecutor. What did you take from that?
Most people were unaware of the prescription drug problem in Adams County. We brought together law enforcement, judges, and other stakeholders across the community to raise awareness, provide education, and deal with the problem on many different levels.
How successful were you in Adams County?
Talking with Adams County law enforcement, I understand it is no longer easy to buy pills on the street. Two years ago, you could buy them anywhere. The community is very aware of what’s going on now, and our overdose death rate is down. All of those things point to a good start, but it’s important that we continue to work together and communicate to have long-term success.
Do you think that sort of success is possible across the state?
I think we can replicate some of those successes statewide, but we have to let local communities put their own touch on it. The Attorney General’s Office can be a facilitator and share what’s worked elsewhere, but communities need to develop an approach that works locally.
How does what you saw as a county prosecutor motivate you to see Ohio tackle this problem?
I was seeing one person after another coming through the court system, or worse, overdosing and dying. It produced heartbreaking wreckage — parents who had lost their children, children who had lost their parents, families devastated emotionally and financially. If that’s going on in Adams and 87 other counties, you can’t help but be motivated to do as much as you can.
How is the Attorney General’s Office addressing the issue?
BCI is able to assist with investigations, and OPOTA is offering training around the state and online through eOPOTA. And my unit, the Criminal Justice Section’s Special Prosecutions Unit, is involved in prosecuting cases at all levels. We’re also collaborating with the Governor’s Office, the legislature, and all the other entities that have a stake in seeing Ohio tackle this problem.
Are you trying approaches that haven’t been explored before?
Yes. For instance, we’re using a new model for investigating pill mills, rogue doctors, and drug rings. It was developed by Fred Moore at BCI, and it involves gathering all the players — local law enforcement, prosecutors, BCI agents, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the state pharmacy and medical boards — and working the law enforcement and regulatory aspects of cases simultaneously.
Talk about the connection between prescription pills and heroin.
Heroin is an easy crossover drug, and it can satisfy the craving of a prescription drug addict. People think of heroin as an inner-city problem. They don’t think about their neighbor who had surgery, was prescribed pain medication, and wasn’t aware he could get hooked on heroin.
Have you made the transition from Adams County to Columbus?
I’ve been living in Columbus since May. And my wife, Meredith, moved here in August and took a job as a middle school talented and gifted coordinator in the Olentangy school district. We’re both from Adams County, so we never want to get too far from there. But we love Columbus and spending time here.