Overdose deaths in Valley rank high

Staff and wire report


Drug and alcohol addiction treatment officials in Trumbull County were concerned when they knew the county ranked ninth among the 88 Ohio counties for per-capita drug-related deaths.

The release of data Friday that show the county rose to No. 7 is “disheartening,” said April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

Mahoning County’s per-capita ranking is 19th, placing it in the top 22 percent. Columbiana County ranks 52nd.

Scioto County in southern Ohio led the state in the per capita overdose death rate from 2007 through 2011, followed by Brown, Jefferson, Pike and Adams counties, all in southern or eastern Ohio.

Cuyahoga County had the highest number of total overdose deaths in 2011 with 211, followed by Franklin County with 209 and Montgomery County with 121.

Across the state, data show Ohioans are dying from drug overdoses at record-high rates, the state Department of Health said as it released 2011 figures that place the blame on prescription painkillers and also show a worsening heroin problem.

The Associated Press reports the number of people who died of accidental overdoses statewide jumped 14 percent to 1,765 from 2010. Such overdoses remain the leading cause of accidental deaths in the state, ahead of car crashes and falls, a trend that began in 2007.

The data mean nearly five Ohioans died every day in 2011 from accidental drug overdoses, or about one every five hours.

The state health department says multiple drug use is a major contributing factor, with more than two of every three deaths involving more than one drug.

The new statistics come at a time when Ohio has launched numerous efforts to crack down on illegal prescription painkiller use and distribution. Midway through 2011, Ohio enacted a law meant to reduce the number of pills-on-demand clinics where many addicts were receiving pain pills under questionable circumstanc es.

The state has also tightened prescribing rules for painkillers, while changes in Medicaid rules are making it easier for doctors to prescribe medication that helps addicts beat the craving for drugs like heroin and painkillers.

The increasing deaths are part of a decade-long trend of an overabundance of painkillers in the state, and it’s going to take a while to reverse that trend, said Christy Beeghly, the state health department’s Violence and Injury Prevention Program administrator.

“It’s like when we put more cars on the road, we’re going to see more car crashes,” Beeghly said Friday. “So we put more pills out there, we have more addiction and ultimately more overdoses.”

In 2011, an average of 59 painkillers were dispensed for every Ohio resident, according to Ohio Board of Pharmacy data reported by the health department.

In addition to increases in prescription painkiller and heroin overdoses, a growing number of Ohioans are dying from overdosing with anti-anxiety medications, the state data shows.

The number of heroin overdose deaths jumped to 426 in 2011, up from 338 the previous year, part of a trend that police and counseling agencies have been warning about for several years. As addicts’ supply of painkiller dries up, they turn to the cheaper and, in some cases, more dangerous street drug.

The worsening statistics for Trumbull County come on the heels of the April 17 announcement that nearly 100 Warren-area residents had been indicted on drugs and weapons charges, more than half of them on federal charges.

The indictments and arrests that resulted from the 10-month investigation were called operation “Little D-Town” because of the prevalent Detroit connections found, authorities said.

“At least all the parties are coming together to do something about it,” Caraway said of the investigation, which involved local as well as state and federal agents.

Caraway said the arrests may present additional opportunities to treat drug-dependent Trumbull County residents, and she expects her board to take formal action next month to allocate $40,000 more for drug detoxification and treatment covering the next few months.

Caraway said she thinks it’s possible Trumbull County’s numbers are higher than some counties just because of the excellent record keeping and proper identification of drug-related deaths by Trumbull County’s coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk.

Larry Moliterno, CEO of Meridian Community Care, one of the largest drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Mahoning County, said he doesn’t know whether Mahoning County’s overdose deaths rose or fell between 2010 and 2011, but the number of clients with opiate addictions from Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties has risen from 85 to 400 in the past seven to eight years.

Moliterno said fewer resources are available for treatment of opiate addiction when the problem is increasing. Many health insurances are not covering opiate treatment, and the Ohio Legislature is opposing Medicaid expansion, which would allow treatment for Ohioans qualifying for Medicaid, he said.

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