Martell details problem facing Scioto

5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell (left) brought the issue of babies born addicted to attention Portsmouth City Council during his Jan. 11 ward report. Photo by Patrick Keck.

PORTSMOUTH — 5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell used his ward report during Monday’s City Council meeting to draw attention to an issue facing the community.

That issue, drug addiction, has been reported to be a seriously deadly issue in Scioto County throughout the years, where Harm Reduction Ohio reported 79 overdose deaths in 2020, the worst death rate in the state. Further troubling, HRO used preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Health mortality database, meaning 15% of the deaths have yet to be recorded.

Similarly, an analysis from the Ohio Attorney General’s Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention and Education found the death rate from opioid overdose reaching new heights in 2020. During a three-month period last year, 35.2 per 100,000 population died from overdoses in the county, again the highest in the state.

Perhaps lost in the mix are the babies born addicted, who through no fault of their own are forced to deal with a problem they might not have the tools the fix.

“It’s very alarming,” said Martell in a Wednesday interview with the PortsmouthDailyTimes. “There are kids out there that are going through things that we can help them with, but they’re still out there. They’re struggling in school, struggling with relationships, struggling with all kinds of things.”

Through the county’s Juvenile Court, Scioto will join Montgomery and Cuyahoga counties in the Safe Babies program, which helps with the diagnosis and providing a helping hand through adulthood.

“They are trying to help them cope with the struggles of addiction,” said Martell of the program. “It’s very important that we try to find ways to slow down the epidemic that’s happening here and I think this is a good program to start slowing that process.”

“If we can catch them early enough, we can help them progressively throughout the years to keep that addiction at bay.”

Seeking both local assistance and federal grants, Safe Babies will help caregivers who Martell says are frequently the grandparents of the addicted children.

“Some grandparents are just not equipped with the capabilities of dealing with a child that has special needs,” he said, services and tools such as transportation and supplies coming through the Safe Babies program.

The program is new to the area and fairly new in general, he said, who is now in the process of training volunteers. Headed by Jordan Davis, Martell was asked to join due to both his a role in local government and his mentorship work through the Juvenile Court.

Martell described the local numbers of babies born addicted as “ungodly awful” to his fellow council members as they were quite near Cuyahoga’s total. Past reporting from the Times found the county led Ohio with 76 babies diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome for every 1,000 live births.

The 2016 Children’s Defense Fund study, cited in the article, determined the problem was typical and growing in Appalachian counties, neighboring Lawrence and Pike counties trailing closely with 66.7 per 1,000 and 57.7 per 1,000 live births, respectively.

While Scioto’s population is approximately 6% of Cuyahoga’s, a three-month study revealed that only six more babies were born addicted in the Cleveland-area county.

Martell said those numbers- 137 in Cuyahoga and 131 in Scioto- do not paint the full picture as many cases remain open. Of the three involved counties, Scioto has the least with 175 open cases, Montgomery with 776 and Cuyahoga with 2,700.

Safe Babies may not be able to cure the opioid epidemic, says Martell, but could at least help curb some of its effects and mitigate the issue.

Either or he says it will take a team effort.

“If we have enough people, one someone is going to know someone who can help,” he said. “That old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” if we really want to do something about this epidemic, it’s going to take a community.”

The program plans on meeting at least once a month and is looking for volunteers from active community members. Martell said during the Monday council session that he can be contacted if residents had any more questions.

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.