PLAIN TWP. — Overdose deaths in Stark County are down for the second year in a row, but the community needs to keep looking for ways to address addiction and adapt to changes in drug-use trends.

That was the message at Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery’s annual Opiate Symposium this week at First Christian Church’s Heritage Hall.

In keeping with the theme of “Next Steps for Proactive Progress,” many speakers focused on new trends in drug use and the next steps in addressing opioids and addiction in general.

After an increase in local overdose deaths in recent years, the toll has started to subside.

The Stark County Coroner has ruled 51 deaths as accidental overdoses through Oct. 2. The county had 69 overdose deaths by that time last year.

This year’s downward trend follows a 27 percent decrease in overdose deaths in 2017, a year in which Stark County had the lowest fatal overdose rate among Ohio’s most populous counties.

Summit County, likewise, has been following this trend. In 2016, 340 people died in Summit County after overdosing on drugs. In 2017, at least 269 people died here from drug overdoses.

The numbers in 2018 may further decline.

Earlier this year, Akron Police Lt. David Garro — who runs the department's narcotics division — said police recorded 34 suspected opioid-related deaths through Aug. 30. During the same time period in 2017, the department counted 98 suspected overdose deaths; in 2016, police said there were 117.

Those seeking medical treatment for overdoses has also declined Summit County. The most recent report by Summit County Public Health shows 24 resident went to hospital emergency rooms for overdoses symptoms between Nov. 9 and Nov. 15. At the peak of the opioid crisis in 2016, 19 Summit County residents per day were turning up at ERs for overdoses.  

In Stark County, MHAR Executive Director John Aller said the downward trend in overdose deaths didn’t mean it was time for a victory lap.

“What I say all of the time, and I talked to a mom the other day, if you’ve lost someone to an overdose, it doesn’t matter if you are one of 100 that year or one of 200, it’s still a loss for you, so we need to continue to address the overdose deaths,” Aller said.

Collecting and analyzing reliable data could help the community better monitor trends and find the best responses, whether those responses are quicker access to treatment or more recovery support, he said.

One reason for the decrease in local deaths — even as fatal overdoses increase statewide — is probably the greater availability of the overdose antidote naloxone.

Since 2014, more than 3,500 naloxone kits have been distributed locally to the public through Project Dawn, and at least 125 kits have been used to reverse an overdose since 2017.

Also, local law enforcement agencies requested 83 naloxone refills in 2016 and another 52 last year through a Stark County Health Department program.

“With that, it’s safe to say there were potentially 260 lives that were saved with the use of naloxone,” said Allison Esber, Stark MHAR’s systems initiative manager.

Various approaches also are being used to link people to treatment.

Outreach teams coordinated by the Stark County Sheriff’s Office and Canton Police Department have linked 131 people to treatment since 2017, and Stark County TASC has made contact with 275 overdose survivors in emergency rooms and linked three-fourths of them to treatment, Esber said.

Many individuals who die from overdoses in Stark County test positive for a mixture of prescription and street drugs, including cocaine, benzodiazepines, methamphetamine and opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

Dr. Nicole Labor, medical director of OneEighty treatment center in Wooster, said she has seen a rise in the abuse of stimulants, a class of drugs that include methamphetamine, cocaine, “bath salts,” Ecstasy and prescription drugs.

Stimulants, especially meth, are cheaper than opioids, widely available, less immediately fatal and cause less severe withdrawal symptoms, although they can be contaminated by opioids, Labor said.

While doctors have medications to treat addiction to opioids, there is no medication to treat addiction to stimulants, Labor said.

Whether a person uses opioids, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine or any other drug, addiction affects brains the same way, underscoring we are facing an addiction epidemic, not just an opioid epidemic.

The law enforcement community has seen similar trends, said Derek M. Siegle, executive director of the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program, a federal initiative that provides training and money to drug task forces.

Prescription opioids continue to come into Ohio, along with heroin and other opioids, Siegle said.

Ohio HIDTA seizures of methamphetamine and cocaine also have steadily increased since 2013, and prescription rates for stimulants are up, too.

“I do believe that’s going to be the next crisis,” Siegle warned about stimulants. “We’re all focused on fentanyl and heroin and this is going to creep up on us and it’s going to hit us like the pills and heroin did when nobody was ready for it.”

 

Beacon Journal staff writer Amanda Garrett contributed to this report. Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @shooverREP