Middle aged white man

Ohio Attorney General David Yost

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost extends his streak of violating the law and science. Yost, who agreed to much-too-small settlements by three large drug distributors with the state (see Eric Lagatta, “Columbus address to join state opioid settlement against three large drug distributors”), now claims with no evidence that there is a causal connection between Spring 2020 Covid “stimulus checks” (under Trump Administration, which Yost never mentions) and opioid drug deaths in Ohio. (See Titus Wu, “Ohio AG Dave Yost says federal Covid-19 stimulus checks fueled opioid deaths. Is that so?”)

These claims, which his office refuses to discuss with me as a social science historian and concerned citizen, are reminiscent of Yost’s ignorance of the U.S. Constitution regarding the elections clause, amendments on voting rights, free speech, and federal authority over school curricula. (See my Letters to the Editor, Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 1, 2021, and Cincinnati Enquirer, May 30, 2021 [subscribers’ only].) These are stunning failings for the state’s AG.

The new distortions are more severe. Yost fallaciously claims, “The link between pandemic relief money and opioid overdose deaths is now evident. The intent was to help Americans navigate this deadly pandemic, but it also fueled a tidal wave of overdoses.” This gross overstatement rests on no evidence that makes any such relationship “evident.”

Unlike Yost, his office staff, or Ohio media, I have read the study, a preprint, not an actual publication—an important distinction for scholars and researchers—of “COVID-19 economic impact payments and opioid overdose deaths,” International Journal of Drug Policy, 102, April, 2022, by Jon E. Sprague, Arthur B. Yeh, Qizhen Lan, Jamie Vieson, and Maggie McCorkle.

All Ohioans must understand these academic, research, and political issues. First, the study does not support Yost’s claims. Second, this is a minor, not a major journal. Third, none of the researchers are specialists in medical forensic science, drug use, or mortality. Fourth, the “research,” such as it is, was commissioned, financially supported, and conducted by Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation at Bowling Green State University, his “team,” and members of the AG’s office. Three of the five listed co-authors are identified as members of the AG’s staff.

Despite the authors’ statement to the journal that there is no conflict of interest professionally or financially, this relationship blatantly contradicts their declaration. The authors write that “This research did not receive any specific grant,” but they do not state this is the work of a center operated by the AG. These breaches of professional ethics are unacceptable. Bowling Green (as well as the AG’s own agents) should be investigating.

Ohioans need to know that these researchers are not well qualified for this task, and BGSU is not a research university. Why is the Attorney General’s sponsored research “institute” located there?

Let’s turn to the “study” itself. The thin “research” includes neither the data nor employs the statistical methods required to make any claims of a “causal relationship.” This group can at best establish a temporal coincidence or overlap in time that may be accidental. The research never actually attempted to show causality. The time span examined of barely two years is insufficient to answer the longitudinal questions murkily posed.

The Ohio Department of Health data, as we learn repeatedly, are unreliable. When questioned by the Columbus Dispatch reporter, Sprague did admit that the research was “not definitive.” To say the least. But not the AG.

A law-abiding and fact-respecting AG would immediately withdraw his trumpeted claims. We have no reason to expect that. I have asked his office to do so. They immediately ended their correspondence. We have Yost’s own history to guide us, along with his leadership position in the DeWine administration and Republican “governance.”


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. His essays appear in Inside Higher Education, Times Higher Education, Washington Monthly, Academe, Publishers Weekly, Columbus Free Press, and other outlets. Specialties include the history and present condition of literacy and education including higher education, children and families, cities, interdisciplinarity, and contemporary politics, culture, and society.