Ohio is failing in its fight against drug overdose deaths that have been fueled by the opioid epidemic.
A Columbus Dispatch analysis substantiates that fact, finding there were at least 4,149 unintentional drug overdoses in Ohio in 2016, a 36 percent increase from the previous year's 3,050, which led the nation. The analysis shows 119 overdose deaths in Stark County.
Eleven people died each day in the state last year from an overdose — up from eight in 2015.
It might be that recent investments have yet to take hold and that we'll begin to see a curtailing of the epidemic soon. The trend for 2017 does not provide much encouragement, however. The state still needs to direct additional resources toward the problem. As one expert told the Dispatch, Ohio has not provided enough medication-assisted treatment to drug addicts, which combines therapy with medications to achieve sobriety.
"If you are looking at the crisis as it exists today with so many people at risk of death from overdose, the most important immediate strategy is to expand access to effective treatment, because that's what pulls people back from the edge," Joshua Sharfstein, an associate dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Dispatch.
He also noted that the state needs more timely reporting of overdose data. Had the Dispatch not contacted each county coroner for the information in its analysis, the numbers wouldn't have been available until August, when they are released by the Ohio Department of Health. The paper's numbers are expected to rise because not all coroners have completed their data, and coroners in six smaller counties did not respond to the Dispatch's request for the information.
Large investments in data reporting in medication-assisted treatment must be part of the state's comprehensive approach to the problem, as should educational campaigns. Gov. John Kasich met Drug Enforcement Agency officials earlier this spring who told him education is the most promising method for curtailing the epidemic. That, however, should not preclude the state from making other sizable investments in treatment.
Another important factor emerged Wednesday on the opioid front, as Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the state has filed suit against five pharmaceutical companies for putting "profits above the health and well-being of Ohio consumers" by pushing addictive prescription painkillers onto the market through millions of dollars in marketing campaigns.
"The companies knew what they were doing was wrong but did it anyway — and continue to do so," said DeWine, who believes the manufacturers committed Medicaid fraud and violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, according to reports.
The suit is long overdue. It could help hold accountable the manufacturers responsible for kick-starting the epidemic in the first place.
Damages potentially awarded to the state could provide another crucial funding source to help combat this harrowing problem.