Pubdate: Fri, 25 Sep 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


A new silent killer, addictive and lethal, is stalking Ohioans and 
killing them in massive numbers.

Fentanyl,a synthetic, highly addictive opiate 50 times more potent 
than heroin, was involved in 502 fatal overdoses last year, pushing 
Ohio drug deaths to 2,482, a staggering 17.6 percent jump over 2013, 
the Ohio Department of Health reported on Thursday.

It was another record year for death in a state that has lost more 
than 12,000 people to overdoses since 2002 and seen its drug death 
rate nearly quadruple.

Known by the street names of China white, dance fever, friend, 
goodfella, jackpot and murder 8, fentanyl killed five times as many 
people last year as in 2013, the health department report showed. It 
is often mixed with heroin and other drugs, usually without the 
user's knowledge.

The report, released seven months earlier than in the past to provide 
early feedback for government officials and treatment agencies, was a 
setback for a state working for five years to break the chain of drug 
addiction deaths.

"At the same time we are experiencing positive progress in our fight 
against drug addiction," said Mark Hurst, medical director of the 
Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, "we are also 
seeing some individuals begin to use more-dangerous drugs to achieve 
more-intense effects."

Fatal overdoses rose significantly in almost every category in 2014: 
heroin (1,177, compared with 983 in 2013); prescription opioids 
(1,155, up from 726); cocaine (511, up from 405); and even alcohol 
(376, up from 304).

The drug-death rate last year was 21.4 per 100,000 Ohioans, up from 
5.7 per 100,000 in 2003.

Dr. John Leff, an Upper Arlington parent and chairman of general 
surgery at Riverside Methodist Hospital, called the statistics "eyeopening."

"It's an unfortunate epidemic that's gaining momentum," he said. 
"People are choosing to switch to even more addictive opiates."

Fentanyl, used during anesthesia and to treat severe pain, is "an 
extremely powerful drug. It's very rapid onset and a significant 
high," he said.

Leff said Riverside is seeing an increase in heroin and fentanyl 
overdoses, countering the stereotype that the drugs are an inner-city problem.

Doctors have adapted by writing fewer prescriptions for opioids, "but 
the problem is still growing," Leff said. "This is all of our problem."

Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and 
Addiction Services, said the overdose results are "disappointing. But 
we're seeing progress on a number of fronts. ... This is a 
multifaceted challenge. We are taking steps in prevention, stopping 
use of drugs in the first place, intervention, treatment and law 
enforcement. We want to try to save as many lives as possible."

In an unusual twist, overdose deaths in the state's two largest 
counties, Franklin and Cuyahoga, dropped slightly last year. Franklin 
County recorded 193 deaths compared with 197 the previous year, while 
Cuyahoga reported 254 fatalities, down from 255.

Other areas more than made up the difference, with deaths shooting up 
in Montgomery, Butler, Hamilton, Lucas and Summit counties.

State officials said they have asked the federal Centers for Disease 
Control and Prevention "to fully analyze Ohio's fentanyl-related drug 
overdose data so that local and state officials, law enforcement and 
doctors better understand the nature of the fentanyl problem in Ohio 
and how to address it."

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, head of a congressional addiction and 
treatment caucus, said he was heartbroken by the numbers.

"Unfortunately this epidemic only continues to grow in our state," he 
said in a statement. "Last year in Summit County, 56 people died from 
heroin overdose - and in just one week in Trumbull County, seven 
people died from overdose. Addiction is a disease, and the people 
suffering need care just like anyone else who gets sick in this 
country, yet only 1 out of 10 Americans who suffers from substance 
abuse gets treated."

Marcie Seidel, executive director of the Drug Free Action Alliance, 
said the report "doesn't paint the picture we desire, yet we are 
hopeful. Substance abuse disorders are progressive brain diseases, so 
there is a difficult lag time between the implementation of sound 
public policy and measurable results.

"The surge of heroin laced with street-made fentanyl is a deadly new 
factor, as indicated in the report."

State officials said they have seen promising signs, including 40 
million fewer doses of opioids prescribed for Ohioans last year, a 
reduction in high-dose pain prescriptions, and less "doctor-shopping" 
by people seeking multiple prescriptions of painkillers.

They released a list of more than two dozen steps being taken in the 
war on drugs, including a statewide health alert and media campaign 
about fentanyl, working with law enforcement and the Ohio National 
Guard to "disrupt the supply line" for drugs, providing more 
community "takeback" opportunities, expanding Medicaid to increase 
treatment options, and encouraging greater use of Naloxone, a drug 
that stops overdoses when administered in time.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom