Efforts to combat prescription opioid drug abuse and deaths are showing some promising progress both statewide and locally, the director of the Ohio Department of Health said on Thursday.

The number of deaths from prescription drug opioid use reached an 8-year-low in 2017 with 523 statewide, said Lance Himes, director of the Ohio Department of Health during a news briefing at the Summit County Public Health department.

“That’s still one too many deaths,” said Himes, who noted that prescription opioid drug use often can lead to heroin and fentanyl use and deaths.

Himes was in town to discuss the collaborative efforts of the state and county to combat prescription opioid drug use. Since 2016, Summit County has received more than $2.5 million from the state to implement local overdose prevention programs.

Statewide, opioid prescriptions have declined for the fifth straight year. Prescribers now need to check a database before prescribing opioids and that reduces the number of people who “doctor shop” for pain pills, said Himes.

From 2012 to 2017, the total number of opioids prescribed by doctors declined by 225 million doses or 28 percent and for that same time, there was an 88 percent reduction in the number of people doctor shopping for pain pills, he said.

The state has also increased law enforcement and developed new regulations for drug wholesalers.

In Summit County, Health Commissioner Donna Skoda said her department has been able to do many preventative programs as a result of the funding, including Narcan training and distribution of the free kits. More than 983 kits have been given out, more than 1,200 individuals have been trained and 173 lives have been self-reported to have been saved, she said.

The department has also been working with the health community about prescriptions and finding alternatives to opioid pain medication or pain management strategy, said Skoda.

“Many individuals innocently get connected to this horrible disease by starting out on a pain med,” she said.

Skoda said there are many partners that work with the health department through various education and prevention programs, including a free needle exchange and distribution of free Deterra bags to safely dispose of prescription drugs in medicine cabinets by adding water (they are free at Acme pharmacies, the health department and Clerk of Courts Office on Tallmadge Avenue), D.U.M.P. boxes at many locations throughout the county (several police stations) where prescription medications can be safely discarded and drug take-back days.

For more information on various programs, call the Summit County health department at 330-923-4891 or go to www.scph.org

For those who have an addiction, it can be difficult to manage or stop that addiction, and relapse is often part of the issue.

A pilot program at Summa Barberton Hospital’s emergency room, through a grant with the United Way of Summit County, has been running since June. It provides medication-assisted treatment in the ER for interested eligible patients and then a “warm hand-off” to a recovery coach from the Packard Institute, who can guide patients to recovery resources in the community.

The health department also offers medication-assisted treatment through Vivitrol, Skoda said.

Summit County also has a large and active Opiate and Addiction Task Force, which now has more than 600 members, including some young women who wanted to offer help after losing their brothers to opioid overdose deaths, said Dr. Doug Smith, medical director of the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board.

The ADM also has an Addiction Help Line, which will conference in a service provider once someone calls for assistance. That number is 330-940-1133.

And while prescription drug opioid abuse and deaths are declining, use of stronger drugs is increasing, said Himes.

“We are seeing increases in overdoses in cocaine and methamphetamine and 70 percent of 2017 deaths had fentanyl in the tox screen,” he said. “The challenge is shifting and we are creating collaborations to address those shifting targets.”

 

Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty