By Tammy Watts
On November 30, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) held a press conference call to provide updates on several pertinent state and federal issues. Among his chief concerns is the influx of fentanyl into Ohio, as evidenced by an increase in deaths by drug overdose.
“There has been a 26 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in Ohio in the last 12 months,” Portman stated. “Over half of those were due to fentanyl.”
He is particularly frustrated by this troubling statistic, because in 2018, there had been a 22 percent decrease in overdose deaths, as supply from China was curbed. Now, the drugs are coming in from Mexico, exacerbated by the migrant crisis at the Southern border. Government agencies are overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people attempting to illegally enter the United States, making it even harder to stop drug smugglers. Furthermore, demand for illicit drugs increased during lockdowns, when support groups could not meet, and at-risk people felt even more isolated. “Look-alike” drugs, such as pressed pills appearing to be Xanax, but which actually contain fentanyl, are contributing to the high mortality rate. Such pills were found circulating in Cleveland recently.
Portman then fielded questions from reporters in attendance, many of which centered on the economy. He was asked about the state unemployment rate, and how to reconcile that to the prevalent staffing shortages suffered by many companies.
“There are 10 million out of work, and 13 million jobs,” Portman said. “There is a skills gap, which we are trying to resolve at the federal level so people can be trained and fill some of those positions.” Portman explained that Pell Grant money could be used for training programs, such as obtaining CDLs, welding, or coding certifications. “Less than half of all Pell Grant recipients graduate college,” Portman observed, citing that the funds would be more beneficial if they were utilized for short-term training to match people with jobs.
The senator discussed the new inflation numbers, stating that October’s rate was 0.9 percent. He blamed new government spending and stimulus money, which creates demand. Coupled with limited supply, this demand is driving inflation, and for this reason, Portman opposes the Build Back Better Act.
Portman concluded the call with a brief on the 15 missionaries from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, held for the past six weeks in Haiti. The Senator said he is keeping abreast of the situation, and maintaining efforts, along with his colleagues, to secure their release.
Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts can be reached at [email protected]