A newspaper’s survey of county coroners has painted a grim picture of fatal overdoses in Ohio: more than 4,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016 in the state badly hit by a heroin and opioid epidemic.
At least 4,149 died from unintentional overdoses last year, a 36 percent climb from the previous year, or a time when Ohio had the most overdose fatalities in the United States so far.
“They died in restaurants, theaters, libraries, convenience stores, parks, cars, on the streets and at home,” wrote The Columbus Dispatch in its report revealing the findings.
It’s likely getting worse, too, as coroners warned that overdose deaths this year are fast outpacing these figures brought on by overdoses from heroin, synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil, and other drugs.
The Dispatch obtained the number by getting in touch with coroners’ offices in all 88 Ohio counties. Coroners in six smaller counties, according to the paper, did not provide the requested figures.
Leading the counties in rapid drug overdose rises are counties such as Cuyahoga, where there were 666 deaths in 2016, as well as Franklin, Hamilton, Lucas, Montgomery, and Summit.
The devastation, added the survey, did not discriminate against big or small cities and towns, urban or rural areas, and rich and poor enclaves.
“It’s a growing, breathing animal, this epidemic,” said Medina County coroner and ER physician Dr. Lisa Deranek, who has sometimes revived the same overdose patients a few times each week.
Cuyahoga County, which covers Cleveland, had its death toll largely blamed on fentanyl use. Heroin remains a leading killer, but the autopsy reports reflected the major role of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate 50 times stronger than morphine, and animal tranquilizer carfentanil.
“We’ve done so much, but the numbers are going the other way. I don’t see the improvement,” said William Denihan, outgoing CEO of Cuyahoga County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.
Cuyahoga County had 400 fentanyl-linked deaths from Nov. 21 in 2015 to Dec. 31 last year, more than double related deaths of all previous years in combination. The opioid crisis, too, no longer just affected mostly white drug users, but also minority communities.
Dr. Thomas Gilson, medical examiner of Cuyahoga County, warned that cocaine is now getting mixed into the fentanyl distribution and fentanyl analogs in order to bring the drugs closer to the African-American groups.
Plans And Prospects
The state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services stated that the overdose death toll back in 2015 would have been higher if not for the role of naloxone, an antidote use for opioid overdose cases. It has been administered by family members, other drug users, and friends to revive dying individuals.
State legislature moved to make naloxone accessible in pharmacies without a prescription.
Ohio topped the nation’s drug overdose death numbers in 2014 and 2015. In the latter year, it was followed by New York, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation using statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts are pushing for expanding drug prevention as well as education initiatives from schoolkids to young and middle-aged adults, which also make up the bulk of dying people.
And while the state pioneered in crushing “pill mills” that issue prescription painkillers, health officials warned that this sent addicts to heroin and other stronger substances.
Naloxone, too, is merely an overdose treatment and not a cure for the growing addiction.
Last May 22 in Pennsylvania, two drug counselors working to help others battle their drug addiction were found dead from opioid overdose at the addiction facility in West Brandywine, Chester County.