Funding must keep up with evolving drug plague

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39.2 of every 100,000 deaths in Ohio in 2017 were opioid-related overdoses. That rate is second only to West Virginia’s. To combat the problem, Ohio State University will lead a group of experts and six universities in spending a $65.9 million federal research grant to further study it.

Ohio’s study will focus on 19 counties — the two closest to our region being Athens and Guernsey.

In expressing his hopes for the study, Gov. Mike DeWine made adjustments to language that demonstrate he understands such an effort might be a step behind the game.

DeWine said he hopes Ohio can “expand its efforts to address the substance use crisis that is taking a toll on families across the state in a comprehensive, collaborative way.” Notice his use of “substance” rather than “opioid.”

Make no mistake, opioids — or, rather, the synthetic opioid fentanyl and other similar drugs — are, indeed still taking a vicious toll on our region. Across the river, West Virginia University researchers said deaths blamed on fentanyl increased 122 percent from 2005 to 2017. But given changes in trend noticed by local law enforcement officials, one must wonder whether those numbers will change when figures from 2018 and 2019 are analyzed. Will the number of deaths decrease, but use of methamphetamines increase, for example?

Ohio State President Michael Drake said the study is intended to find solutions to the opioid crisis and scale them up quickly in order to help as many people as quickly as possible, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

“Quickly” is the operative word, but researchers must be careful not to focus too much on the original problem without also addressing the manner in which substance abuse in our region has already evolved.


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