Ohio Sees Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths as Pandemic Rages


Nineteen counties in Ohio have exceeded or equaled records for the most overdoses in a year as the nation continues to see a spike in drug overdoses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Harm Reduction Ohio, a drug policy advocacy group which says it is the largest distributor of naloxone in the state, says the biggest increases in death caused by overdoses have occurred in central and east Ohio.

There have been more than 3,700 overdose deaths in the state, a number likely to rise by the end of the year, Harm Reduction Ohio said. May saw a record-breaking 557 deaths.

The 19 counties with overdose records are: Ashland, Belmont, Carroll, Coshocton, Fairfield, Franklin, Gallia, Licking, Mahoning, Meigs, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Pike, Ross, Seneca, Tuscarawa and Vinton Counties. Franklin County alone has already confirmed, 551 overdose deaths since the beginning of the year and is on track to be the first Ohio county to top more than 600 overdose deaths in a single year, Harm Reduction Ohio said.

“It’s also important to remember that, as bad as things are in Franklin County, its overdose death rate is only about 25% above the state average,” the organization said in a statement on its website. “In other words, the record-breaking overdose level is partly a results of the county’s large population size.”

Franklin County is home to Columbus, the state’s capital.

Scioto County also had an overdose death rate more than twice the state’s average, while Pike, Gallia, Lawrence, Meigs and Vinton counties also had unusually high death levels, Harm Reduction Ohio said.

It also reports what it called “a bit of good news:” Montgomery County, home to Dayton,  saw numbers 40 percent below what Harm Reduction Ohio said was a “devastating” surge in 2017.

Harm Reduction Ohio said the spike in deaths was caused in part by the novel coronavirus pandemic, a sentiment echoed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC on Thursday issued a warning about rising numbers of drug overdose deaths.

More than 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the 12 months ending May 2020, the highest number ever recorded in a single year, the CDC said.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield in a statement. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

The CDC said that synthetic opioids — primarily manufactured fentanyl — appears to be a driving force in the spike.

“In a nutshell, the overdose epidemic is in overdrive. There’s been some geographic change in where death is increasing or decreasing,” Harm Reduction Ohio said. “But, for Ohio overall, things are as bad as ever — maybe worse.”

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Jordyn Pair is a reporter with The Ohio Star. Follow her on Twitter at @JordynPair.




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