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At least 5,215 Ohioans fatally overdosed on drugs last year according to new government data, a nearly 22% increase over 2019 numbers.
The data, released Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics, shows the Ohio uptick was more modest than the national rate. More than 93,000 Americans fatally overdosed in 2020, a staggering total amounting to a 29% increase from the year prior.
The 2020 data reverses what was a promising trend of decreasing overdose rates in Ohio that began in late 2017. However, a muted uptick began in late 2019 before surging as the pandemic started, bringing Ohio nearly back to 2017 levels.
The data reflects the way one emerging health crisis — an infectious disease pandemic — intertwined with and exacerbated a slower burning public health crisis of addiction.
Opioids were at least a partially involved in a round 4,400 of the overdoses, although the overdoses could have involved one or more substances. Cocaine was involved in around 1,250 of them. Methamphetamine and similar drugs were involved in 1,067.
The data is tragic, though hardly surprising. For months, media reports, academic journals and medical associations have warned the economic stress of the pandemic, coupled with related mental health strains and isolation, would worsen America’s addiction crisis.
The American Medical Association has steadily issued pandemic related policy proposals for states to pursue and lengthy lists news clips linking a worsening pandemic to a worsening drug problem.
“The nation’s COVID pandemic made the nation’s drug overdose epidemic worse,” reads its latest issue brief. “Every state has reported a spike or increase in overdose deaths or other problems during the COVID pandemic.
CDC researchers examined economic costs of opioid overdoses and substance use disorders in 2017, finding the epidemic cost $72 billion that year when factoring in direct costs of care alongside economic losses of productivity.
Dennis Cauchon, president of Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit that claims to be the largest distributor of naloxone in the state, said the country is “failing to respond” to the overdose crisis.
“Ohio should provide harm reduction organizations and volunteers the resources and freedom to help people at risk of overdose death”, he said in a statement. “Simple measures can be taken to address this crisis in our state, such as allowing members of the community to receive and use naloxone, strengthening our state’s Good Samaritan Law, and expanding syringe access and the state’s Medicaid substance use treatment program to incarcerated individuals re-entering society. It is past time for our state to step up and act to save Ohioans’ lives.”
This story was updated Thursday morning with comment from Dennis Cauchon.
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