Accidental drug-overdose deaths hit a record 1,914 in Ohio in 2012, as deadly abuse shifted dramatically toward heroin from prescription drugs.
An Ohioan died from a drug overdose every five hours as total deaths rose 8.4 percent in 2012 compared with 2011.
The sliver of a silver lining is that fewer people died from prescription-pill overdoses in 2012 (697) compared with 2011 (789), a 12 percent drop and the first annual decline in the state since 2003.
However, heroin-overdose deaths jumped to 680, an increase of nearly 60 percent, according to newly updated annual statistics from the Ohio Department of Health, as reported by 88 county coroners.
“These numbers are not good news, but we’re encouraged by the drop in prescription-drug-related deaths. ... The things we are doing are moving in the right direction,” said Roman Hall, director of the Governor’s Cabinet Opiate Action Team. “We will do everything we can to make sure these numbers go down.
“We’ve been saying for a while there would be a transition to heroin,” Hall added.
State officials doubled down on efforts to reduce illegal access to addictive narcotic pain-killers, including shutting down “pill mills.” But those efforts pushed more people to use heroin, which is far cheaper and more deadly.
The state is moving to tackle heroin addiction by increasing treatment programs and preventing overdose deaths by expanding the use of Alexon, a drug that, when administered promptly during an overdose, can immediately reverse the effects and save the victim’s life. The administration also began a statewide anti-drug education campaign for young people called “Start Talking.”
Since 2007, overdose deaths have been the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio — more than auto accidents.
Lance Himes, interim director at the Department of Health, said the state must now shift its strategies “if we want to see the same drop in illegal-drugs deaths as we’re seeing in prescription-drugs deaths.”
Gov. John Kasich, who has been pushing drug-treatment efforts since taking office in 2011, was pleased at the drop in pill-related drug deaths, spokesman Rob Nichols said.
“The success we’ve had on the prescription-drug front shows we can make progress when we set our mind to it,” Nichols said. “The illegal-drug front is harder, of course, but it’s essential that we fight as hard as we can because nothing less than the lives of our kids are at stake.”
The new numbers show that southern Ohio, plus Montgomery County and some other isolated areas, continue to be hardest hit by drug-overdose deaths. The number of overdose deaths in Franklin County actually dropped, to 191 from 209. Still, Franklin County deaths quadrupled from 2001 to 2012, rising from 49 to 191.
At the same time, Cuyahoga (230), Hamilton (159), Montgomery (150), Butler (92), Summit (91), and Lucas (88) counties all reported more deaths in 2012 than in 2011.
Delaware County, which had nine deaths in 2011, showed one of the largest percentage increases, jumping to 16 in 2012, or nearly 78 percent. Ashland, Holmes, Harrison, Morgan and Noble counties reported no drug-overdose deaths for the year and relatively few over the past decade.
By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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