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Ohio Drug Overdose Deaths Fall to Three-Year Low

Are drug overdose deaths in Ohio starting a declining trend? (Ohio Department of Health)
Are drug overdose deaths in Ohio starting a declining trend? (Ohio Department of Health)
January 22, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- News of a drop in drug overdose deaths in Ohio is being met with cautious optimism.

According to state figures, there were more than 4,800 fatal drug overdoses in 2017, the highest number on record. One year later, the number fell for the first time in nine years, to about 3,700. While it's the lowest in three years, the decline may not indicate a trend.

Tara Britton, director of public policy and advocacy for the Center for Community Solutions, said reports from some areas showed that overdose deaths ticked back up in 2019.

"I don't know if that means we'll surpass the 2018 levels as a state, but we do know that in some places, they're seeing numbers exceeding the rates for 2018," she said, "but it does take some time to certify all of the deaths and the contributing factors."

Britton contended that the decline indicates that efforts to address drug overdoses are working, including increased access to naloxone, syringe-exchange programs and other harm-reduction initiatives. She noted that another factor is improved access to alcohol and drug-addiction treatment due to Medicaid expansion. Roughly 84% of overdose deaths involve opioids, such as fentanyl, heroin and prescription painkillers.

Britton cautioned that large numbers of people still struggle with opioid addiction, and continued gaps in the availability of treatment. She said a deeper dive also is needed into demographic shifts.

"Starting back two or three years ago, a greater proportion of black men were impacted," she said, "so we need to make more of an effort to target some of resources to populations that have been disproportionately impacted by drug-overdose deaths."

Britton added that many national stories continue to focus on the opioid crisis in the Ohio River Valley, and said future research will focus on understanding the relationship between economic conditions and drug use.

"We are going to look at ways to connect what these overdose deaths tell us about some of those regions that may have been, economically, more impacted by the recession and may not have recovered in the same way," she said.

The only drug category that showed an increase in overdose deaths in 2018 was psychostimulants, such as methamphetamines or meth. Britton said the rise in meth use is already seen as a concern by local, state and national health officials.

The data is online at communitysolutions.com.

Disclosure: The Center for Community Solutions contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH