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Drug overdose deaths continue to rise in Ohio

COLUMBUS — Reflecting a continuing national trend, unintentional drug overdoses caused 2,110 deaths of Ohio residents in 2013.

Records show there were about 196 more deaths in 2013 compared to 2012, according to a new report released by the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). Opiates, which include heroin and prescription painkillers, were culpable in more than 70 percent of overdose deaths.

Heroin-related deaths increased in 2013, significantly surpassing prescription opiates among unintentional overdose deaths. Heroin overdose deaths rose from 697 in 2012 to 983 in 2013. Prescription opiates remained a significant contributor to drug overdose deaths, increasing from 680 in 2012 to 726 in 2013.

“Ohio is fighting drug abuse through many initiatives on several fronts at the state and local levels involving law enforcement, public health, addiction and treatment professionals, healthcare providers, educators, parents and many others,” said ODH Director Richard Hodges. “Many of these initiatives were launched in 2013 or later, and it will take some time for their full impact to be reflected in Ohio’s drug overdose deaths. We know that we’re doing the right things, but the data underscore the need to redouble our efforts.”

An initiative that has had an immediate impact is the expanded availability and use of naloxone, a life-saving drug that has the potential to reverse drug overdoses. In a Lorain County pilot project for the year 2013, naloxone saved 63 lives. Naloxone was administered by Ohio EMS personnel 12,256 times in 2013 and 15,493 times in 2014.

Counties that experienced declines in drug overdose deaths from 2012 to 2013 included Lucas County (from 88 to 72) and Summit County (from 91 to 76).

“We know that both Lucas and Summit counties have taken a collaborative community approach to fighting drug abuse. There are lessons to be learned from their efforts,” said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “The Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team will study these local approaches to provide a guide that other communities can use to replicate successful efforts.”

Key 2013 initiatives: The Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team (GCOAT) introduced opioid prescribing guidelines for Ohio prescribers for safe management of chronic, non-terminal pain. ODH funded additional Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided with Naloxone) sites, broadening the availability of this life-saving medication that has the potential to reverse drug overdoses; Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) state hospital facilities began distribution of naloxone. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine established the Attorney General’s Heroin Unit, which assists local law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting upper-level drug traffickers in Ohio.

Key 2014 initiatives: The extension of Medicaid coverage in Ohio began, making addiction treatment services available to more individuals. Gov. John Kasich announced Start Talking!, a new youth drug prevention initiative encouraging parents, educators and other trusted adults to have frequent, ongoing conversations with children about the dangers of alcohol and other drugs. Kasich signed HB 170 into law, expanding the use of naloxone so that first responders can administer the drug, and allowing family and friends to get prescriptions for loved ones at risk of overdosing on opioids. The mid-biennial budget review (MBR) included funding for drug prevention, recovery housing, and drug courts. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office launched Heroin Recognition and Investigation Training for law enforcement through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, and developed an online training course for law enforcement and an educational video for the public regarding the administration of naloxone. The Ohio Highway Patrol reported that it seized more than 38,000 prescription pills and 14,150 grams of heroin in 2014.

Key 2015 initiatives: Kasich’s proposed executive budget for the 2016-17 biennium includes investments in naloxone; calls for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and OhioMHAS to expand the availability of treatment within state prisons and upon release; and provides another $5 million to expand the Addiction Treatment Pilot Project in additional drug courts. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine negotiated an agreement with naloxone manufacturer Amphastar Pharmaceuticals Inc., regarding rebates for public entities that purchase Amphastar naloxone. If passed by the Ohio General Assembly, HB 4 will further expand the availability of naloxone by permitting pharmacists to dispense the drug without a prescription.

ODH’s report on 2013 drug overdose deaths is available on its website at 2013 Ohio Drug Overdose Data: General Findings, or at “odh.ohio.gov” and select “Injury Prevention” from the A-Z Index. The number of drug overdose deaths by county also are available on the website or at Unintentional Ohio Drug Overdose Death Rates by County. A timeline of key initiatives to combat the opiate crisis in Ohio is available at Timeline –—Fighting Opiate Crisis in Ohio 2013-2015.

Some of Ohio’s initiatives to fight opiate abuse include:

• 2015 (Projected): HB 4 (Sprague/Rezabek) will further expand access to naloxone by permitting pharmacists to dispense without a prescription this life-saving drug that has the potential to reverse drug overdoses.

• 2015: Kasich’s proposed executive budget for the 2016-17 biennium includes investments in naloxone; calls for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) to expand the availability of treatment within state prisons and upon release; and provides another $5 million to expand the Addiction Treatment Pilot Project in additional drug courts.

• 2015: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine negotiates an agreement with naloxone manufacturer Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc. regarding rebates for public entities that purchase Amphastar naloxone.

• 2015: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Overdose Prevention Task Force issues recommendations regarding uniform tracking of opiate overdose deaths.

• 2014-18: ODH begins funding local prescription drug overdose prevention projects in Cuyahoga County, Clermont County and the City of Portsmouth with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The projects include coalition development, healthcare prescriber education and healthcare system changes for safer prescribing practices.