the Beacon Journal editorial board

Ohio is relying most heavily on its local departments and agencies to respond to the expanding epidemic of opiate addiction across the state. As reports from state health officials show a rapid rise in deaths due to overdoses, those on the front lines of treatment are straining to keep up with the demand for help. Especially critical is access to residential treatment facilities, where counseling, medication and close supervision offer the best chances for addicts to overcome the habit.

As reported Monday by Nick Glunt, a Beacon Journal staff writer, federal data on opiate addiction in Ohio indicate that Summit County easily could have as many as 9,340 addicts. Yet the county, long considered one of the best in the state for the strength of its social services network, has just 107 beds available for inpatient rehabilitation. While detoxification and outpatient services are more readily available, they do not bring the same odds of an addict remaining clean.

The Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board is planning to add 20 beds to county-funded providers of inpatient services, including the Interval Brotherhood Home and the Community Health Center. Because it depends on local levy support, the ADM board must take care to avoid long-term financial commitments to deal with a spike in overdoses that is expected to begin declining next year.

State statistics indicate that Summit County’s death rate for accidental drug overdoses, about 18 per 100,000 people from 2010 to 2015, is far from the worst, roughly tracking the average for the state. The rates in the southwest part of the state are staggering, with Brown County, along the Ohio River, the highest at about 40 deaths per 100,000.

Mahoning County, just to the east, has a rate of 28 deaths.

If Summit County is swamped, that signals a stronger statewide response is necessary, with residential treatment options a top priority. The state Department of Health recorded almost 2,600 deaths due to overdoses of opiates last year, from fewer than 1,000 in 2010 and just under 300 in 2003. The surge requires mobilizing additional state resources toward residential programs that offer the best prospects for recovery. That effort means more than beds. It requires training the staff necessary to provide counseling and other support.

While important, detoxification provides cleansing of the system, not long-term recovery, and outpatient treatment cannot insulate addicts from coming into contact with the same people and settings that got them into trouble in the first place. Drug prevention and education programs, meanwhile, will not put a dent in the number of those already addicted.

Without a more robust state response to the crisis, counties and local service providers will be left to do what they can with the resources they have available, absorbing the burden until the worst is over. The question is: Will Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-led legislature respond in time?