Alarm bells continue to sound

Tight-lipped investigators looking into the executions of eight people near Piketon, Ohio, have released few details of what they have found. There are some indications the killings may have been drug-related, however.

And though it would be unwise to jump to that conclusion, the drug abuse epidemic sweeping our region makes it an obvious possibility. Marijuana growing operations were found near three of the four homes where the killings occurred.

If indeed drugs were a factor, the brutal murders may be viewed by some as a “wake-up call” concerning the need to do something effective about substance abuse. Certainly, a more widespread sense of urgency would be desirable.

But if mass murder is the criteria for public outrage, Ohioans should have felt it long ago. Substance abuse has been a serial killer in the Buckeye State for a long time.

Eight people were killed in the Piketon-area massacre. But each year in Ohio, more than 2,400 people die of drug overdoses, most of them linked to illegal substances or abuse of prescription medicines. In Pike County alone, where the slaughter occurred last week, at least 39 lives have been claimed by overdoses during the past five years.

No one can say with certainty how many other deaths – in turf wars among pushers, for example – have resulted from the epidemic of abuse.

And though we know the amount of human misery inflicted by substance abuse is enormous, that, too, is a toll on which we can only speculate.

What we do know is that the average pusher is guilty of more brutality, in some ways, than the Pike County murderers. We know, for example, that three young children’s lives were spared by the killers. One was a baby sleeping in the same bed with her 19-year-old mother, who was executed with a bullet to the head.

But those who supply heroin and similar drugs have no such compunctions. They don’t have to watch children die – but all too often, the little ones are victims of the vicious trade. News of children who die from abuse or neglect traced to drug-addled parents is all too common.

So yes, what happened in Pike County was horrifying. But it was no more so than the brutality that is part of drug abuse day in and day out. So if you view what happened last week as a wake-up call, good. But bear in mind, you already have missed alarm bells going off all around you.