Ohio Opioid Epidemic Worsens; More Treatment Urged

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To save lives in Ohio’s expanding opioid epidemic, the state must broaden access to medication-assisted treatment to drug addicts, says a national health expert, the Columbus Dispatch reports. “If you are looking at the crisis as it exists today with so many people at risk of death from overdose, the most important immediate strategy is to expand access to effective treatment because that’s what pulls people back from the edge,” said Joshua Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Ohio overdose deaths jumped at least 36 percent in 2016 over a total that easily led the nation the previous year. Gov. John Kasich has balked at providing more funds for treatment despite waiting lists, saying Drug Enforcement Administration officials told him that better education is preferred.

Sharfstein said access to timely data is crucial. He cited Rhode Island, whose web site already has drug overdose data through April 2017, as well as information on the use of naloxone (a drug used to reverse a heroin overdose), how many got counseling and recovery outcomes. Ohio has only a partial county-by-county drug overdose listing for 2016, which won’t be finalized until August. Ohio’s most recent naloxone figure is for 2015. Kasich’s two-year budget essentially flat-funded the almost-billion-dollar anti-drug effort. The House added $170.6 million. The Senate is now considering the budget. Sharfstein noted a recent study that found a program starting people treated for overdoses in the emergency room on Subaxone, a medication to lessen withdrawal symptoms and block opioid cravings, before they leave the hospital, doubled the success rate. Few hospitals offer such treatment despite its effectiveness. At least 4,149 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2016, an average of 11 people each day from heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or other drugs. To get that data, reporters called each of Ohio’s 88 county coroners offices.

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