Opioid prescription drugs have been used for years to help treat symptoms of chronic pain. Most healthcare professionals agree that becoming addicted to prescription opioids is the most common cause for someone starting to abuse heroin. Heroin can be more easily obtained and is less expensive.

NBC News reported on the Ohio epidemic in Montgomery County, or as the locals call it, “the overdose capital of America,” where they have lost 800 people so far this year to opioid overdose, more than any other city in the nation. With more than 10,000 opioid-related overdoses, Ohio has had more opioid-related deaths than the entire country in 2017.

The epidemic is not spread evenly throughout the state, however. According to data from the University of Ohio, in 1999, most of the drug overdose deaths were concentrated in some of Ohio’s major cities, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland/Akron, Toledo, and Dayton. By 2016, overdose death rates had spread across the state, and every county in Ohio reported at least one death due to overdose in 2017.

The heroin and opioid epidemic in Ohio affects many individuals. Most analyses of opioid addiction and abuse focus on overdose deaths because data is consistently collected on the issue. However, heroin and opioid abuse and addiction affect more than the individuals who overdose on these drugs.

Getting substantial numbers on how many people this epidemic is affecting is difficult, though. Ohio state officials estimate that anywhere between 92,000 and 170,000 of the state’s residents struggle with heroin and opioid abuse or dependency.

Role Of Fentanyl In The Opioid Epidemic

Unfortunately, just as the state was making progress decreasing the number of opioid prescriptions written and related overdoses, newer, stronger drugs became an issue. The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) reported that opioid overdoses involving synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and carfentanil, sharply increased in 2016. These synthetic opioids can be 50 to 80 percent more potent than morphine, which increases the risk of overdose significantly.

In 2017, 58.2 percent of all opioid-related overdose deaths in Ohio involved fentanyl. Hamilton County coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, reported about 85 percent of the opioid overdose deaths she handled were due to fentanyl in 2017.

Perhaps the biggest fear associated with this increase is that fentanyl abuse will worsen. At first, fentanyl was introduced into the heroin supply in Ohio, which exposed individuals taking heroin to an overdose danger they had never experienced. Now individuals initially looking for heroin seek straight fentanyl instead.

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Healthcare providers fear that fentanyl abuse will spread like wildfire. The very nature of prolonged opioid use increases the chance for individuals to develop a tolerance to the medication. People with opioid tolerance are more likely to overdose due to taking increasingly larger doses to maintain the same effects of the drug. This behavior can be dangerous when it is applied to fentanyl abuse, as it only takes a minimal amount to produce euphoric effects.

Fentanyl promises an intense high that an individual may be craving due to their established addiction to another opioid, so they seek out the drug. It is common for individuals who abuse drugs to feel ashamed or disappointed in their condition, so they may continue to use drugs to numb themselves to these feelings, which they may not know how to handle.

How The Heroin And Opioid Epidemic Affects Ohio Residents

The epidemic is reaching critical limits as the local coroners’ offices in Ohio run out of space for the newly deceased. Two days into February 2017, coroners’ offices in Dayton have already handled 25 deaths, 18 of which were due to a drug overdose, The New York Times reports. The coroner’s office in Montgomery County had become so full that it had to request many of the bodies be temporarily held at a nearby funeral home and inside a rented, refrigerated truck.

In addition to running out of space for the deceased, the children of Ohio are also suffering due to the heroin and opioid epidemic. Teachers in Vinton County buy shoes for their students whose addicted parents send them to school in footwear held together with tape. The foster care and child-protection system in Ohio now house close to 14,000 children, many of whom were removed from their families because of addiction.

The expenses incurred by the state due to caring for the children of individuals suffering from heroin or opioid addiction is roughly 25 percent of the $4 million annual budget, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Other significant costs result from the heroin and opioid epidemic as well. Estimated costs associated with treatment, criminal justice, and lost productivity due to the heroin and opioid epidemic is estimated to be between $6.6 and $8.8 billion per year.

Ohio’s jails are bursting at the seams with more and more people being arrested for heroin and opioid abuse and trafficking. As communities in Ohio continue to be bombarded by the consequences of the epidemic and first responders struggle to keep the addicted alive, the fight against this epidemic begins on another front: the courthouse.

The Washington Post reported in April that hundreds of lawsuits from cities, counties, Native American tribes, and unions have been brought together into one case in a federal courthouse in Cleveland. These assorted groups from Ohio insist that Big Pharma take some responsibility for the epidemic in the state.

Addressing The Ohio Heroin And Opioid Epidemic

As this epidemic grows, policymakers in Ohio have been hard at work to combat the negative consequences of heroin and opioid abuse and addiction. Ohio’s plan to fight the rising number of drug overdose deaths continues to evolve to address the ever-changing nature of the epidemic.

Some new strategies Ohio introduced to fight the crisis include:

  • increasing law enforcement efforts to limit drug transporting
  • increasing the penalties for trafficking fentanyl
  • expanding and recognizing schools that have implemented the Start Talking! program and other incentives
  • raising awareness and availability of naloxone to reverse opiate overdoses and save lives
  • continuing to work with communities and law enforcement to enhance local efforts through the Health Resources Toolkit for Addressing Opioid Abuse

The state has taken many steps to reduce the number of prescription opioids given out in doctors’ offices and hospitals to help decrease the number of people exposed to the addictive potential of these drugs. In fact, prescriptions for opioids have declined steadily since 2010.

However, first responders still report using record amounts of the opioid overdose reversal drug, naloxone. Naloxone is only a quick fix to the overall problem, which allows individuals to survive at least one more day. Formal addiction treatment is the only proven method to address opioid addiction comprehensively and influence lasting recovery.

Finding Heroin And Opioid Addiction Treatment In Ohio

Heroin and opioid abuse and addiction have reached epidemic heights in Ohio. There are reputable treatment programs available throughout the state. Individuals who struggle with addiction to opioids (including heroin) will need to first participate in a  detoxification program, as opioid withdrawal can produce uncomfortable and potentially fatal symptoms. Most individuals will choose to continue abusing the drugs to avoid these withdrawal symptoms.

Formal heroin detox treatment programs have the tools and medical supervision to make individuals more comfortable during this process. Detox is not a cure for opioid addiction, but merely the process of getting the drugs out of someone’s body.

Depending on the severity of the addiction, an inpatient or outpatient program may be recommended to continue the healing process. Some people may find that the structure of inpatient treatment programs is just what they needed to say goodbye to their addiction, and begin living an opioid-free lifestyle.