County continues to lead overdoses

The Ohio Department of Health has released overdose data for 2016, which shows that the opioid epidemic is progressing, and the death toll is increasing.

Scioto County continues to lead in overdoses, with an overdose rate of 34.1 annual deaths per 100,000 population. This translates into 35 overdose death in Scioto County in 2016, an increase from 30 in 2015 and 23 in 2014. Scioto County is one of 15 of the 88 counties in Ohio had an overdose rate higher than 28.4. The highest rate found in Ohio was found in Montgomery County, where the overdose rate was 42.5.

In 2016, unintentional drug overdoses caused the deaths of 4,050 Ohio residents, a 32.8 percent increase compared to 2015 when there were 3,050 overdose deaths.

Ohio’s opioid epidemic continued to evolve in 2016 to stronger drugs, driving an increase in unintentional overdose deaths,” a release of the ODH stated. “The data shows a significant increase in overdose deaths involving the opioid fentanyl, the emergence of more powerful fentanyl-related drugs like carfentanil, and indications that cocaine was used with fentanyl and other opiates. The data also shows some promising progress – the fewest unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription opioids since 2009 (excluding deaths involving fentanyl and related drugs).”

Decline in overdoses related to the use of prescription opioids have now been replaced as heroin use continues to replace prescription pain medications such as a oxycodone on the illicit market. Drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil are often additives used in heroin that drug users may or may not be aware they are taking.

Illegally produced fentanyl can be hundreds of times stronger than heroin, and carfentanil can be thousands of times stronger.

Fentanyl and related drugs were involved in 58.2 percent (2,357) of all unintentional drug overdose deaths in 2016. By comparison, fentanyl was involved in 37.9 percent (1,155) in 2015, 19.9 percent (503) in 2014, 4.0 percent (84) in 2013, and 3.9 percent (75) in 2012.

With the emergence of carfentanil in 2016, the fentanyl-related drug was involved in 340 overdose deaths, most of them during the second half of the year.

The Ohio Department of Health explained that fighting the prescription drug problem is still a focus because prescription opioids do continue to be involved in a significant number of overdose deaths in Ohio, and abuse of them has been found to be a key risk factor for heroin and fentanyl use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Of all unintentional overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, 834 (20.6 percent) had an opioid prescription in the previous 30 days,” the ODH data stated. “Still, of all unintentional drug overdose deaths, the percentage of prescription opioid-related deaths in Ohio declined for a fifth straight year in 2016 (excluding deaths involving fentanyl and related drugs), and the number of these deaths declined 15.4 percent from 667 in 2015 to 564 in 2016 — the fewest since 2009.”

Scioto County Public Health Nurse Lisa Roberts explained that the crisis seems to be improving for the next generation with teen use on the decline.

“The good news is that Scioto County has seen significant reductions in the teen nonmedical use of prescription drugs, and prescription opioid distribution in Scioto County overall is at its lowest level since the Ohio Pharmacy Board began measuring pain pill distribution rates,” Roberts stated.

She further explained that Scioto County is seeing some of the same trends that are being seen state-wide.

“Overdose deaths related to prescription pain killers has declined very dramatically in Scioto County—and across the state as a whole,” Roberts commented. “The introduction of deadly and extremely potent illegal opioids has changed the situation and is responsible for this overall increase in fatalities.”

Roberts has been fighting the epidemic locally for a decade. She explained that as the crisis evolves, efforts to curb the dangerous effects and reduce drug addiction and use has also had to adapt.

“As you can imagine, strategies to address this latest threat are different than those to address pain medications,” Roberts said. “So, we recently convened a group of community leaders to address these latest developments, and just last week held an exercise in Scioto County that was led by the Ohio Attorney Generals Substance Abuse Outreach Coordinator, and it was very well attended by county leaders. This group will continue to work on local strategies and solutions to the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the nation. And hopefully, with the President recently declaring this a National Emergency, we will see increased help at the federal level.”

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.