By Ed Runyan
Mark Hines, who works with the Mahoning Valley Hope Center to find placements for Trumbull County residents with drug addictions, has noticed a drop in overdose deaths this year compared with 2017.
“I believe the deaths are down, definitely down, and that’s a good thing,” Hines said when asked about statistics showing Trumbull County overdose deaths the first four months of 2018 to be about half compared to that period in 2017.
There were 38 overdose deaths from January through April 2017 but 18 this year, the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office reports.
Hines, like others in his field, point to another drug as the likely reason: naloxone. It is now available at most pharmacies in the Valley without a prescription.
Naloxone is the opiate reversal drug used by paramedics, police officers, ambulance workers and emergency-room personnel to reverse the effects of an overdose. Walgreens announced last October it would begin making it available without a prescription. Rite Aid began doing so two months ago.
Hines and Darryl Rodgers, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court drug court director, say naloxone – also known by the brand name Narcan – appears to be infiltrating society.
“You can buy Narcan on the streets,” Hines said. “Grandparents, moms and dads have it. Everybody can get it. I’m rejoicing in the fact they’re not dying. We’re not losing some people, and they’re still having a chance to change in their life.”
Trumbull County recorded 135 overdose deaths in 2017, a record.
Hines stays in communication with area courts regarding drug addicts. When a judge finds someone who might benefit from a long-term residential drug treatment program, Hines drives him or her to facilities in Cleveland.
Rodgers, who along with Judge Andrew Logan has run the drug court for decades, said addicts and their family members have increasingly told him they have naloxone at home.
April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, agrees naloxone is helping to cut overdose-death numbers.
But Caraway and an Ohio Department of Health spokesman say they have no data showing how much naloxone the pharmacies are selling to ordinary residents because they are not required to report it.
Trumbull County officials have asked local pharmacies for data on their naloxone sales , but it has not been provided, Caraway said.
The state does report which pharmacies sell naloxone through this web site www.pharmacy.ohio.gov/Licensing/NaloxonePharmacy.aspx, said Russ Kennedy with the Ohio Department of Health.
For example, 32 Trumbull County pharmacies sell it, and 34 in Mahoning County. It’s available in places such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart and Giant Eagle.
Calls to two such pharmacies indicated that the cost is $136 at one outlet and $147 at the other. But the pharmacy can check to see if the buyer’s insurance will pay, The Vindicator was told.
The Washington Post in January quoted Thom Duddy of Adapt Pharma, the maker of the naloxone spray, as saying most insurances cover naloxone.
Co-payments are $10 or less for 73 percent of insured people, and people on Medicaid can frequently get it for a co-pay of $5 or less, Duddy said.
Hines said the lower death numbers do not indicate a reduction in drug addiction, however.
“I don’t really see a decline in the arrests for drug abuse or possession or paraphernalia or even the thefts, where children are stealing from their grandparents or parents,” Hines said. “It’s still happening probably at the same rate it’s always been happening. When you look at the charges, they’re still drug-related.”
The most recent Trumbull County grand jury report indicated that 23 of the 35 people indicted had at least one drug-related charge.
Hines thinks the percentage of offenders with drug problems is about 90 percent.
“The courtrooms and probation departments are just busting at the seams with addict issues,” Hines said.
Hines, Rodgers and Caraway agree it’s impossible to know what the future holds for area drug abusers because only the drug dealers control the lethality of the drugs coming into the community.
“I’ve talked to local law enforcement, and they think the dealers are not making it as fatal,” Caraway said of this year compared to 2017.
Hines agrees but also thinks addicts may have built up a higher tolerance by using high-potency drugs last year.
“The heroin came in, the fentanyl came in, and it went crazy,” Hines said.
“Everyone was dying, so addicts that started using fentanyl the first time, it was killing them.”