Drug overdoses kill more Ohioans than car wrecks
Thursday, April 2, 2009 2:17 PM
By Alan Johnson
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A new killer has quietly replaced traffic crashes as the No. 1 cause of accidental death in Ohio.
Unintentional poisoning deaths - nearly all of them drug overdoses - eclipsed traffic fatalities in both 2006 and 2007, the Ohio Department of Health reported. Numbers have not been released for last year.
Overdose deaths shot up 249 percent between 1999 and 2007. An average of three people now die each day in Ohio of drug overdoses.
The state agency calls it an epidemic.
In addition, heroin and synthetic opiates such as OxyContin have now replaced cocaine as the second-tier "drug of choice" among those seeking rehabilitation, treatment agencies are reporting. They rank behind only alcohol.
Officials gathered at a Statehouse news conference today said they are alarmed by both trends, given the backdrop of state budget cutbacks for drug-, alcohol- and mental-health treatment programs.
"We have a serious problem with opiate addiction," said Joe Trolian, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Richland County.
"This is not just down-and-out people from the wrong side of town. This is high-school students that died in the family recreation room, athletes who thought they could take just one more pill, older adults who mix drugs and alcohol."
Cheri L. Walter, chief executive officer of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities, said that as funding evaporates, only those patients who qualify for Medicaid are certain to be served.
"Many Ohio counties have no funds left over to provide services to middle- or lower-income families who have minimal or no health-care benefits."
The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services has $38 million in state money, twice as much as when it was created 20 years ago. However, it is treating 100,000 people instead of 40,000.
Health officials said opiates are "largely responsible for this alarming increase in drug-poisoning death rates." There is a direct relationship between increasing sales of prescription opiates and drug overdoses, they concluded.
Franklin County reported 61 deaths by prescription narcotics in 2007, the most among Ohio's 88 counties.
The drugs involved include methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and morphine. Sedatives such as Valium, tranquilizers, anti-depressants and sleeping pills also are often abused, the agency said.
Costs associated with fatal drug overdoses, including medical, work and quality-of-life losses, add up to an estimated $3.6 billion a year in Ohio, the Health Department found. An additional $35.5 million in expenses resulted from nonfatal overdoses.
Paul Coleman, president of Maryhaven, a Columbus alcohol- and drug-treatment center, said a study done for the agency last year found that each $1 spent on treatment saved more than $11 in costs related to crime and medical expenses.