County Drug Study Illustrates Nationwide Impact of Opioids

County Drug Study Illustrates Nationwide Impact of Opioids

The use of opioids as a way to get high can take many forms. Some individuals become addicted to prescription painkillers derived from opium, while others struggle with heroin dependence. In many cases, the use of prescription drugs leads to heroin use.

Prescription drug abuse often happens with painkillers prescribed for legitimate pain problems. The patient quickly finds that they need increasing doses of the drug to achieve the same effects and an addiction develops. 

In other scenarios, prescription drugs are a quick and easy find in the medicine cabinet for someone looking for a recreational fix. When the home medicine cabinet has been plundered, the user simply looks for opportunities at the homes of friends and relatives.

When the ability to get prescription drugs through a physician or through friends or relatives becomes a challenge, some users of prescription drugs will transition to heroin. Cheaper and easily available, heroin produces a similar high to that experienced with prescription opioids.

An article published in WOUB Public Media provides a glimpse into the ways that opioid use is impacting lives on the local level. The article highlights a study completed for Athens County in Ohio, showing that there has been a steep increase in the number of deaths due to accidental drug overdose in recent years.

The study compared accidental drug overdose deaths for the past six years and compared the rates with the six-year period preceding it. The comparison showed that there was a 79 percent increase related to unintentional drug overdose deaths. The study was completed by the Ohio Department of Health.

Athens County, located in Southeast Ohio, has experienced 15.5 deaths per 100,000 individuals, which is higher than most of the counties examined in Ohio, but seems to reflect a rate similar to that of the region. The study shows that from 2001 to 2006 there were 33 unintentional drug overdoses resulting in death, and between 2007 and 2012 there were 59. The numbers for individual years included in the analysis do not reflect any year with a particular spike, but rather a general trending up in deaths related to accidental overdose.

The increase is a local picture of what is happening across the state of Ohio. Between 2011 and 2012, there was an increase of 8.4 percent in unintentional drug overdose deaths. In 2012 alone, the study authors report, there were five deaths in Ohio every day related to unintentional drug overdose, or one every five hours.

Statewide, opioids are the root of the problem. Approximately two-thirds of deaths are attributed to opioid use and drug overdose is the leading cause of injury-related death in Ohio.

A slight decrease in prescription opioid deaths in 2012 are offset by a sharp increase in deaths related to heroin use. This may reflect trends observed on a national level showing that the misuse of prescription drugs often transitions to the use of heroin.

Deaths linked to heroin overdose increased 16 percent from 2008 to 2012. More than one-third of the deaths were connected to prescription drugs.

Ohio has programs in place that are aimed at reducing the number of deaths related to drug overdose. There are monitoring programs that track prescribed medications in an effort to reduce the abuse of prescription drugs. There are also programs focused on the education of healthcare providers about the potential for prescription drug abuse.

Additional efforts are in place to help prevent heroin addiction among the very young. In Athens County, where approximately 10 percent of newborns are born addicted to drugs, addicted expectant mothers can receive treatment for heroin addiction.

These programs illustrate the efforts that are being made on the local level to help reduce the impact of prescription opioids and heroin. Local, state and national teams are working to reduce opioid drug use and eliminate the number of deaths related to accidental drug overdose.

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