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Substance abuse still deadly

News last week of a ruling that legal drug dealers posing as pharmacies shared some of the blame for the opioid epidemic devastating our region may have led some to feel a sense of closure. But much like the COVID-19 pandemic, the substance abuse epidemic has kept evolving. Forget about it being on the way out, it is growing, and still very deadly.

According to a report by the Ohio Capital Journal, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show drug overdose deaths are sharply on the rise in the Buckeye State. Though the numbers had flattened in 2017, they went from 4,410 last year to 5,585 this year — a 26.6% increase.

OHIO Alliance for Population Health reports that over the last several years, the use and blending in of fentanyl in many other drugs has increased as well.

“[People are] dealing with the isolation they felt; they’re dealing with the loss of jobs,” Scott Osiecki, who serves as the CEO of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County told the Capital Journal. “They’re not looking to take fentanyl. They’re not even looking to take an opioid, and it is in there and that’s what’s causing the opioid deaths to increase.”

CDC data shows this increase in deaths is happening more quickly in urban and suburban areas of Ohio than in rural areas. But there is an economic and socio-cultural component to the trend.

“There is a tenfold range in overdose deaths based on counties. There are some counties with very high rates and some with very low rates. So, you wonder why,” Dr. Joe Gay, retired executive director of Health Recovery Services in Athens and a staff member with the Alliance, told the Capital Journal. “We’re exploring what the basis of these differences is. Poverty is an issue, community intactness is an issue, but it’s still not entirely clear what the driving factors are.”

There is a lot of talk in political circles that we have to DO something about this plague. For some, that has meant throwing money at pet projects that do little to no good. But evidence-based programs, treatment options and other community efforts are essential.

Just as important will be an honest understanding of what has driven so many to this point. Are politicians doing all they can to lift struggling communities into a brighter economic future? Or are they killing people by asking them to cling to traditional economic models that failed us generations ago? Pulling Ohioans out of the grip of this monster will take more than just a pretended laser focus on the drugs in question. It will take an attitude shift of which few elected officials have proven themselves capable.

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