Associated Press

COLUMBUS: The number of prescribed painkiller doses and drug-related deaths decreased last year in the southern Ohio county regarded as the epicenter of the state’s prescription drug addiction problem.

Nearly 1.5 million fewer pills were prescribed in Scioto County in 2011 than in the previous year, marking a 15 percent drop, The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday. The county also had 13 fewer drug overdose deaths, including four fewer deaths from drug overdoses, according to county officials.

Neighboring Gallia County had about 472,000 fewer doses prescribed, marking a 12 percent drop from 2010, according to state officials.

The preliminary numbers come from the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy’s automated reporting. Statewide figures are not yet available, but officials with the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services are meeting this week with representatives from the pharmacy board to confirm and finalize the 2011 numbers for all of Ohio’s counties, department spokesman Eric Wandersleben said.

State and local officials say they are cautiously optimistic about the preliminary numbers for the two counties especially troubled by prescription painkiller abuse. Factors responsible for the better numbers include a new state law cracking down on pain clinics, an active public-private education campaign, and doctors’ awareness about the dangers of overprescribing addictive painkillers, officials said.

Orman Hall, director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, is encouraged by the numbers for Scioto County that he says suggest Ohio’s efforts to “stem the tide of opiate painkiller abuse and addiction are having an impact.”

Hall, who described Scioto County as a “window to the world on the devastating consequences of painkiller addiction,” said the statistics show a drop in overdoses and drug-related deaths there for the first time in more than a decade.

Drug-related deaths are those in which a person died under the influence of drugs. They may include traffic accident and accidental drowning deaths among others.

Gov. John Kasich has taken a personal interest in the fight against drugs in Scioto County, and Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols says the numbers appear to be “good news.”

“We want to take a closer look at the numbers,” he said.

Hall said in a recent statement that addiction treatment, enforcement, prescriber education and public awareness efforts are the keys to “ending this public health crisis.”

Scioto County also has been selected by the Ohio Department of Health as the site for a test project using a new drug aimed at stopping or reversing drug overdoses as they happen. The Portsmouth City Health Department will use a $40,000 state grant to establish the project involving a morphine-like synthetic drug called Naloxone. The drug blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system and has been shown to stop or reverse opiate overdoses when properly administered.