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Treatment And Economics Key To Opioid Fight, Says Ohio State Report

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A new report from The Ohio State University finds that improving access to addiction treatment and economic resources are the most effective way to reduce opioid abuse and deaths, which reached a record high in Ohio last year.

“Taking Measure of Ohio’s Opioid Crisis,” which was released Wednesday by researchers at the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy, found Ohio has only 26 certified methadone treatment centers. Only 377 doctors are currently certified to prescribe buprenorphine, another addiction medication.

“We’re not doing well in terms of the scale of the epidemic,” says Mark Partridge, one of the study’s authors. “It definitely hit Ohio considerably more than the U.S.”

Partridge says Ohio’s government moved early to address the problem, in terms of cracking down on prescriptions and pill mills. It’s just that those strategies are not working.

“They addressed it, I think, in an intuitive way,” Partridge says. “‘We’ll just limit the supply, we’ll stop these prescriptions,’ and so forth. But unfortunately, what many of these people have done, is heroin is readily available in the street it’s really inexpensive, and they’ve turned to illegal drugs.”

The contents and origins of those drugs are often unknown, and Partridge says they can be more deadly than prescriptions. Ohio currently leads the country in opioid-related overdose deaths, with 4,050 reported in 2016.

“We’re treating the symptoms, not necessarily the cause,” Partridge says.

Around the turn of the century, Partridge says Ohio and the U.S. both saw about five deaths from opiate overdoses per 100,000 people. Now, the nationwide overdose rate is 19 deaths per 100,000 people. In Ohio, however, that number is 36.

“The real cause is economic, in the long run,” Partridge says. “We’re going to have to find ways of providing job opportunities for lower educated Americans, because that’s the cohort that’s been most affected by this.”

For the shorter-term, Partridge says the state should focus on treatment and bringing people who struggle with addiction back into society. He estimates the state can only handle about 20-40 percent of the population that needs treatment.

That, he says, is a funding issue.

“Ohio, like all the other states, is just not going to have the resources to do this,” Partridge says. “This costing as much money to the state as what K-12 costs every year, and only the federal government has those kinds of resources.”

The report estimates the annual cost of opiate addiction and overdoses in Ohio to be between $6.6 billion and $8.8 billion.

Though President Trump on Thursday declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency,” those declarations expire after 90 days and provide almost no money compared to “national emergency” declarations.

Partridge says Trump’s actions show the opioid crisis is still not a priority.

“During the campaign, he was very adamant about how we was going to address this in a forceful way right away,” Partridge says. “Since being president, he seems to have dragged his feet.” 

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.