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The Growing Opiate Epidemic Crisis in Ohio

Much of the nation is embroiled in a growing crisis with prescription pain pill and heroin addiction and Ohio is not immune from the growing number of addicts. Almost three thousand Ohio residents died of drug overdoses in 2014, with over 80% of these deaths involving the use of heroin and/or prescription opiates. Deaths involving heroin use have increased by 849 percent since 2004, with deaths from opiate use increasing by almost sixty percent between 2013 and 2014. While many of these deaths are associated with the surge of Fentanyl use in the states, many question how we got to these staggering numbers and how we are combating this crisis.

The roots of this epidemic originated in an increase of prescriptions for opiate pain relief medications and the subsequent addiction that ensued. With unclear verbiage regarding how addictive pain pills were or how chemically similar prescription opiates and heroin are many users found themselves in unfamiliar territory. As the availability of prescription opiates began to dwindle due to increased monitoring and regulation many patients who were using legal opiates switched to heroin. This could have been avoided if the crack down on prescribing opiates also came with education about addiction and increased addiction services, but that was not the case.

This was mainly due to treatment for opiate addiction being complex, with detox centers either being full with long waiting lists or completely unavailable, leaving jail as the only alternative. While the expansion of Medicaid has been helpful for addicts seeking treatment, it does not provide options for inpatient detoxification services and completely ignores other important recovery services. Services such as medication assisted treatment (MAT) are crucial for those struggling with addiction, providing medications that will reduce cravings while providing professional counseling services and ongoing support. However, the funding for these services is low and they are sparse.

Clinical and support services are necessary to provide the structure needed to help people seeking recovery, but low resources means that housing, employment services, and transportation are not being offered consistently across Ohio. There is much more that needs to be done to fill these gaps and prevention services must be increased to stem the tide of opiate abuse across the nation. State legislation has strengthened the regulations around prescription drug reporting to ensure that addicts are not receiving prescriptions from multiple physicians and more events are being scheduled to provide a safe way to dispose of excess medication.

The "Start Talking!" initiative provides information and encouragement to parents to take the time to discuss the danger of drugs, and school education is now required to discuss the dangers of opiates. Counties across Ohio are springing up with regional task forces to address the growing concern about opiate abuse. While this is a good start, there is a great need for more far reaching to address the scope of this epidemic. Efforts have to be fully supported by communities and coordinated across the state to ensure their effectiveness.

With multiple increases in overdoses and abuse, it is obvious that the crushing effects of this epidemic are not being addressed appropriately. We need to increase access to treatment options, offer more prevention education, and take a hard look at how badly our families and communities are being impacted by this issue. The staggering increases in the number of Ohio resident deaths shows that we are not doing enough and it is time to change that.


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