the Beacon Journal editorial board

Not one Ohioan died of a fentanyl-related overdose in 2011. Last year? The death toll reached 1,155, as reported by the state Department of Health last week. The alarming trend, 75 deaths in 2014, 503 in 2014, reflects the expanding heroin epidemic. Fentanyl, a synthetic narcotic many times more potent than morphine, has emerged lately as a heroin alternative.

The state reported that 111 people died of fentanyl overdoses in Summit County last year, or second only to Hamilton with 195. Summit County saw a sharp spike in overdoses in July, from three per day to 14, with 395 counted for the month. Hamilton cited more than 50 overdoses in a 48-hour period last week.

Heroin remains the leading killer, overdose deaths climbing statewide to 1,424 last year from 1,196 in 2014. Yet communities now are seeing something worse surface, cartfentanil, an animal sedative some 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

Weigh the loss, so many of the dead between ages 25 and 44, and it is heartening to see communities rise to the challenge. Summit County has been at the front via its opiate task force. The state, too, has taken steps, including a crackdown on the abuse of prescription drugs and the launch of the StartTalking! program. Still, here, so close to the devastation, it is hard to side with Gov. John Kasich’s statement last week: “ … we’re beginning to see it’s going to change.”

What resonates more deeply is the assessment of state Rep. Greta Johnson, who wrote the governor in July urging the formation of a task force or a legislative committee to develop a more comprehensive and coherent statewide approach to the epidemic. The Akron Democrat makes the persuasive case, reinforced by the current reporting of the Beacon Journal newsroom, that this is a public health crisis, requiring the necessary mobilization of skills and resources.

Johnson adds powerfully that heroin is one of the few things she and many of her legislative colleagues in both parties have in common.

If the state helps in making available naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of the opioid on the brain, officials also should know that many cities and counties are struggling with inadequate resources. In part, that is because they still are coping with reductions in state funding delivered by the governor and fellow Republicans at the Statehouse.

That shift in the budget burden has helped the state build a $2 billion surplus. Why not deploy a portion to communities desperately seeking to rescue and save lives? The money could go to treatment, education and other best practices as proposed by those with expertise.

No one should underestimate the depth and complexity of the crisis. It requires the public conversation this newspaper has organized for Thursday at the John S. Knight Center. Yet, a week ago Sunday on the front page, a young woman, in a heartbreaking letter to her heroin-addicted father, captured what all of us are facing: “It’s a monster.” Now let’s deliver an equivalent response.