New Ohio attorney general says opioid epidemic will be top priority

The investigation into the Rhoden family murders is one of the largest criminal investigations in state history, and the prosecution is taking place during a time of transition as current Attorney General Mike DeWine moves to the governor's office and State Auditor Dave Yost takes over as attorney general. (WKRC)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKRC) - The opioid epidemic will be the top priority for Dave Yost as he takes over as attorney general on Jan. 14.

Yost spoke with Local 12 News during an interview in Columbus. The opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of lives in Ohio. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 3,613 opioid-related overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016. Yost said he plans to roll out proposals in his first year in office to deal with the epidemic.

"I'm convinced that we're thinking about it in the wrong way and that we've got to change our thinking,” Yost said. "The bottom line is there are too many new addicts every year for the prosecution and law enforcement system and the addiction treatment system to handle."

Yost said there’s research that looks at the genetic component of addiction and there may be a way to determine who is more likely to become addicted. He said that could be used to look at alternative treatments for pain management.

Yost is a former newspaper reporter, Delaware County prosecutor and auditor and most recently was the state auditor.

During his tenure as state auditor, Yost said he focused on public corruption and created the Public Integrity Assurance Team.

"Every one of those people were trusted with the people's business,” Yost said. "It just makes my blood boil...I think our work has led to more than 170 convictions around the state."

One example of a public corruption case Yost’s office prosecuted was Niles mayor Ralph Infante who’s serving a 10-year prison sentence. Other cases are pending in that area of the state.

"He was selling jobs and favors and doing all kinds of corrupt things,” Yost said.

While his time as auditor has been rewarding, the state attorney general position is a dream job for Yost and takes him back to his roots as a prosecutor.

"I'm so excited about this. I feel like I've been getting ready my whole life to do this job,” Yost said. "A prosecutor or an attorney general, under the ethics rules, doesn't zealously represent their client. They have a special rule that says they're ministers of justice. I like that. That gets you up in the morning."

Yost also takes over as attorney general as the prosecution of the Wagner family for the murders of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families gets underway. Billy, Angela, George and Jake Wagner face the death penalties in the killings.

The Rhodens were found shot to death in their homes on the morning of April 22, 2016, by a family member who went to the home each morning. The victims are Christopher Rhoden, Sr., his cousin, Gary Rhoden and Christopher’s ex-wife, Dana. Christopher and Dana’s children, Frankie, Christopher Jr. and Hanna were also shot to death along with Frankie’s fiancĂ©e, Hannah Gilley. Kenneth Rhoden was found shot once in his camper several miles away later in the day. The investigation has been called one of the largest in state history.

"I'm not going to try the case as much as I would like to. We've got a career prosecutor who's been working on the case since day one and she's going to be great," Yost said.

A gag order prevented Yost from elaborating. Pike County has a population of more than 28,000 and the capital trials will be costly. Yost has previously announced support for legislation that would allow the state to offset the costs.

"We’ll be ready for trial and we'll get justice,” said Yost.

Yost said the results of an investigation into Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader will be released under his successor. An anonymous complaint was filed with the auditor’s office on Nov. 9, four days before the Wagners were arrested and charged in the case. The complaint alleged Reader has a gambling problem and used seized drug money to fund his habit. Reader has declined comment during the investigation. Yost said he hopes the investigation doesn’t drag on for too long.

The state auditor’s office is currently auditing the city of Cincinnati and looking at Cincinnati police overtime costs. Yost said that audit should be complete soon.

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