Long-term war on abuse of opiates is far from over


New and encouraging state and local data point to a downward slide in the number of drug overdoses and deaths in the opiate epidemic that has rapidly snowballed into this nation’s worst public-health crisis in decades.

In Trumbull County, the number of reported drug overdoses declined dramatically from 189 in March 2017 to 22 in March this year, according to the county’s Combined Health District. Last month’s total represents the smallest number since the district began keeping track of them 16 months ago.

In Ohio, the number of overdose deaths from prescription opiates fell to a six-year low in 2017, according to the Ohio Department of Health. New state legislation severely limiting the scope of permissible dosages and cracking down on suspicious orders of such drugs from distributors no doubt played an instrumental role in that decline.

Yet despite those encouraging trends, this is no time for celebration. More importantly, this is no time for Ohio and local communities including the Mahoning Valley to let down their guard.

The encouraging estimates could be nothing more than a short-term anomaly or temporary blip. Throughout the decade-long epidemic, there have been peaks and valleys in the ferocity of the plague.

State and local officials also fear there remains a great degree of underreporting of overdoses. Many of them do not get recorded if ambulance personnel or friends or family members successfully revive an overdose victim on their own with the assistance of naloxone, the opiate-overdose reversal drug.

DON’T IGNORE LONG-TERM EFFECTS

Yet even if the data does prove accurate and stays on a continued downward trajectory, it would not rid our Valley and our state of the tens of thousands of recovering addicts in dire need of sustained professional treatment and recovery services. Many of those individuals will require care, treatment and rehabilitation for years to come before they can truly emerge as full-fledged survivors.

What’s more, even if the epidemic were wiped out completely this year, many social service agencies would remain in crisis mode. For example, the epidemic has severely strained the resources of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board. It is already preparing for a fall levy campaign for additional resources that, in part, will be targeted toward the substantial rise in services it provides to the drug dependent.

Therefore news of any downward rates of overdoses will not in the near future negate the need for heightened care for those who’ve been caught in the monstrous grip of the epidemic for countless months and years.

And those numbers remain astronomically high. A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Ohio reported a 39 percent surge in overdose deaths in the 12 months ending June 30, 2017. Our state’s 5,231 overdose deaths in that period represented the third highest number of fatalities in the nation, even though the state’s total population ranks seventh. And for every overdose death, there are countless numbers of overdose survivors.

If sustained, the slide in the drug plague may indicate that concerted efforts by local, state and federal authorities are beginning to make a real impact. But the beginnings of what may or may not be a lasting trend must not be used as an excuse to reduce this nation’s resolve to lessen the scope of the scourge and to respond aggressively to its many devastating aftereffects.

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