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Is the war on drugs making headway?

Zoe Greszler • Jul 31, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Is the war on drugs making some headway? It’s hard to tell, but recent data suggests that it may be. 

The drug addiction epidemic continues to plague the country and thousands of lives are cut short each year due to overdose. Tragically, when a person’s life ends prematurely, much of their potential impact on the world is lost as well — including what they have to offer society and lost experiences for family and friends left behind.

A new study from Ohio University shows that more than 1 million years of life were lost in Ohio from overdose deaths between Jan. 1, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2018.

The Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health (The Alliance) recently reviewed overdose death data for the state of Ohio. The review included preliminary data for 2018 to determine the extent that overdose deaths contributed to premature mortality.

In 2009, 1,389 people died of overdoses in Ohio. This number increased by about 200 per year before growing by around 400 in 2014, 500 in 2015 and then 1,000 in both 2016 and 2017, where it peaked at 4,817.

In total, 26,375 Ohioans died of overdoses between 2009 and 2018. While these individuals lived a total of 1,090,964 years, they also experienced a combined 1,028,005 years of life lost — essentially cutting their lives in half.

“The Alliance’s newest study of years of life lost in Ohio reveals that the average lifespan of our state has been reduced by 0.78 years as a result of drug overdose,” said Rick Hodges, director of The Alliance. “In 2017 alone, the average lifespan in Ohio dropped by 1.28 years due to overdose deaths.”

These years and lives lost aren’t just numbers though. These are actual people, with families and friends they left behind.

“The Alliance’s research paints a sobering picture of the real-world impact of our state’s drug epidemic. Not only have families lost their sons, daughters, siblings, relatives and friends, they’ve also lost all that they could have been had their lives not been cut short by overdose,” said Randy Leite, Ohio University dean. 

“CHSP will continue to work to address the needs of our communities and to find innovative ways to assess and address the public health needs of our society. Combatting Ohio’s drug overdose epidemic will continue to be an important focus of our collective efforts.”

 

Local numbers

No data was immediately available detailing how many people in Huron County have lost their lives to drugs so far in 2019. However, the trend of a year-over-year decline was seen locally.

There were 20 drug-related overdose deaths in the county in 2018, compared to 33 overdose deaths the year before. Six of those deaths were females and 14 were males, with an average age of 34 years old.

Many too received help before an overdose claimed their life. 

There were 207 drug-related emergency room complaints in Huron County and Bellevue in 2018 — 174 fewer complaints than reported in 2017.

 

All time low OD rate

The decline seen in Huron County’s numbers aren’t a localized fluke. The decline is being seen state-wide; in fact, recent studies show Ohio may have seen an all-time low of lives lost to drugs last year. Early 2018 statistics are currently projecting a nationwide drop in opioid-related overdose deaths for the first time in 25 years.

The Alliance’s study also shows a decrease in overdose deaths in 2018 (3,609), compared to 2017 (4,817). 

“I don’t know if that decrease will be as dramatic nationally, but there is evidence that Ohio may be bending the curve,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative. “It looks like there was a real drop in 2018. We don’t know if the trend continues in 2019, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Kolodny cautioned that even with the potential decrease in overdose deaths in 2018, record numbers of overdose deaths still occur in Ohio and across the United States.

According to Kolodny, the strategies for bringing the opioid addiction epidemic to an end aren’t necessarily the strategies that will reduce overdose deaths in the short term because the incidence rate of opioid use disorder needs to be reduced first. He said more cautious prescribing practices are needed to prevent new cases.

To reduce overdose deaths, Kolodny said the most effective strategy involves making effective treatment more easily available.

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