Study: Overdose Deaths Rise 60 Percent In Vinton County

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Vinton County experienced a 60 percent increase in unintentional drug overdose deaths when the six-year period that ended in 2012 is compared to the prior six-year period, according to an Ohio Department of Health study.

The numbers place Vinton County’s death rate per 100,000 at 20.1 which is on par from most of Southeast Ohio, but higher than much of the rest of the state.

According to the study, there were 10 unintentional drug overdose deaths in the county from 2001-2006 and 16 from 2007-2012.

“There’s no doubt that it’s increasing and that doesn’t even take into account those that overdose and live through it,” said Michael Bledsoe, President of the Vinton County Commissioners. “Prescription pills in particular, it’s just so easy to get now. There’s an increase in availability and people who are taking them just don’t know what it can do until it’s too late.”

The study included the following break-down of numbers by year:

2001 (1), 2002 (0), 2003 (0), 2004 (2), 2005 (4), 2006 (3) — 10 total
2007 (4), 2008 (2), 2009 (2), 2010 (1), 2011 (2), 2012 (5) — 16 total

“While it shines a light on the number of deaths that we have suffered and the increased loss that entails, it does not readily reflect the overarching task that drugs have created for law enforcement,” Vinton County

Prosecutor Trecia Kimes-Brown said of the study. “Drugs are the underpinning of a huge number and wide variety of cases not only criminal cases but children abuse and neglect cases, etc. They are affecting how the system has to cope and respond to everything including increased investigations, increased need for resources including officers and detectives. They are placing a huge strain on the resources of probation departments, drug counseling facilities, etc.”

Across the state, there were 1,914 unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio in 2012 alone. The reports states that this is the highest number of deaths on record for drug overdose and surpasses 2011’s total of 1,765 by 8.4 percent.

“In 2012, five Ohioans died every day from unintentional drug overdose, or one every five hours,” the study concludes.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury-related death in Ohio. Opioids are the driving factor behind the trend with approximately two-thirds of the deaths related to an opioid.

“Prescription opioids are involved in most of the unintentional drug overdoses and have largely driven the rise in deaths over the past decade,” the study states. “Unlike previous years, prescription opioid-related deaths decreased slightly in 2012, but there was a sharp increase in heroin-related deaths.”

Deaths related to heroin increased from 16 percent (233) in 2008 to 35.5 percent (680) of drug overdose cases in 2012. More than a third of overdose deaths involve prescription pills. Multiple drug use attributes to more than half of overdose deaths. Opioids counted for 7,929 overdose deaths in Ohio over the 12-year period. There were a total of 14,572 people killed as a result of unintentional drug overdose in that time frame in Ohio.

Taking a look at some nearby counties, Athens County’s unintentional drug overdose rate rose 79 percent from 33 to 59 for the two six-year time periods. Hocking County jumped 260 percent, going from 10 deaths to 36. Jackson County rose 69 percent with 26 deaths increasing to 44, Pike County went up 192 percent with 13 deaths increasing to 38, Perry County jumped up 243 percent with seven deaths increasing to 24 and Meigs County moved up 33 percent from 12 deaths to 16.

Both on a local and state level, there are numerous programs trying to combat this trend, including programs that monitor prescribed pills and try to reduce prescription drug abuse. There are programs that educate healthcare and service providers of prescription drugs. Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone) is in place in several counties. Naloxone has the ability to counter the effects of an overdose in progress.

There are programs that deal with pregnant women who are addicted to drugs and there are numerous education programs built around the dangers of drug abuse.

“The report shows us that deaths from prescription drug overdoses are down, but that overdoses from heroin are up,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in an email to The Courier. “This mirrors what I hear every day from those on the front lines, including law enforcement, treatment providers and parents. Heroin injects addiction, deception and death in the lives of so many young people.”

“Vinton County is attempting to be proactive in this regard. The Opiate Task Force was established and now planning as to how it can take a larger part. It is comprised of stakeholders from all facets of life not just those involved in the justice system,” Kimes-Brown said. “There are discussions between the prosecutor’s office, the schools, the sheriff’s department, and others to do more cooperative programming. There will be a drug awareness component presented by the Community Corrections Department along with many other interactive booths for families as they plan for healthy summer alternatives at the school carnival to be held on May 22 at the Vinton County Middle School sponsored by Vinton County Local Schools and the prosecutor’s office.”