The Ohio Department of Health’s annual report on drug overdoses revealed the devastation that the opioid epidemic had on the state in 2015. More than 3,000 Ohio residents died from unintentional drug overdoses last year, an all-time high.
The number of drug overdose deaths has been increasing since 2007, when drug overdoses passed motor vehicle accidents as the number one cause of injury-related deaths in Ohio. The 3,050 overdose deaths in 2015 were a 20.5 percent increase from the 2,531 deaths in 2014. Ohio experienced a similar increase from 2013 to 2014.
“The state has been very aggressive in implementing new strategies to strengthen Ohio’s fight against opiates, but we are reminded today of the difficult road ahead as the epidemic evolves at a rapid pace,” said Andrea Boxill, the coordinator of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team, in a press release.
The state’s prevention efforts have helped decrease the number of prescription drugs on the street, but the decrease in the prescription drug supply increased the demand for illegally produced drugs.
Dr. Mark Hurst, the medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said Ohio was one of the first states in which potent illicit opioids such as fentanyl became available on the street.
Opioids accounted for 84.9 percent of all unintentional drug overdoses in the state in 2015. The term opioid refers to prescription painkillers such as oxycodone or hydrocodone and illicitly manufactured drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.
|Other prescription opioids|
|Total unintentional poisoning deaths|
|Age-adjusted death rate|
Ohio had the fifth-highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2013 and the second-highest in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. California experienced the most drug overdose deaths in 2014 with 4,521. National statistics have not been released for 2015.
Ohio Experiences Surge in Fentanyl-Related Deaths
When the opioid epidemic began in the early 2000s, public health officials urged doctors and pharmacists to implement strategies for reducing opioid prescriptions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration pressured drug manufacturers to develop abuse-deterrent pills.
When prescription drugs became harder to abuse, people intent on using opioids turned to heroin. Heroin is widely available on the street, and it causes effects similar to prescription opioids. As the demand for heroin increased, drug dealers began lacing heroin with fentanyl, a prescription opioid that’s 50 times more powerful than heroin.
A recent U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration report stated that American drug traffickers were importing fentanyl from Chinese labs that are illegally producing the drug. Lacing heroin with fentanyl allows drug dealers to increase their supply, and consumers often have no idea what they are buying. The result is a high risk for widespread overdose.
During a six-day span in August, authorities responded to 174 heroin overdoses in Cincinnati. Such incidents are becoming more common as dealers lace heroin with other drugs.
Several Ohio counties experienced large increases in fentanyl-related overdoses in 2015. The counties with the most fentanyl-related overdoses were:
- Hamilton County: 195
- Summit County: 111
- Butler County: 104
- Montgomery County: 102
- Cuyahoga County: 83
Across the state, fentanyl overdoses involving adults ages 25 to 34 increased 32 percent between 2014 and 2015. Last year, males were 2.4 times as likely to die from a fentanyl-related overdose as females.
ODH Begins New Strategies to Combat Epidemic
Alongside the release of its annual report, the Ohio Department of Health released a summary of new strategies for fighting the opioid epidemic. Previous strategies had focused on reducing prescription opioid abuse.
“In the midst of this growing opiate epidemic, we are seeing positive indications that our aggressive efforts are working to reduce opioid prescription pain medications available for abuse,” ODH Medical Director Dr. Mary DiOrio said in a press release.
The department’s new strategies reflect a more comprehensive approach. The strategies include:
- Increasing law enforcement efforts to combat drug trafficking.
- Stiffening penalties for fentanyl trafficking.
- Increasing use of Ohio’s prescription drug monitoring program.
- Expanding youth prevention initiatives.
- Expanding access to the opiate overdose reversal drug naloxone.
Heroin addiction was the most common reason for addiction treatment admissions in 2015, accounting for more than 30 percent of all treatment admissions. The state has several existing initiatives for helping citizens find and access drug rehabilitation services, and it’s striving to expand access to treatment.