As Southwestern Ohio County Tops Nation in Per Capita Opioid Overdose Deaths, State Takes Action

Montgomery County, Ohio, was recently given a title that no community wants to receive: the overdose capital of the United States.

According to a June 19 article on the website of Columbus news station WCMH-TV, Montgomery County experienced 365 overdose deaths in the first five months of 2017. In all of 2016, the county had 371 overdose deaths. In the WCMH-TV article, Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger described the ongoing overdose epidemic as a “mass-casualty event.”

The vast majority of the county’s overdose deaths involve the illicit use of opioids.

Police officers and other first responders in Montgomery County are equipped with nasal spray versions of naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose if administered in time. However, the dramatic increase in opioid abuse means that Montgomery County deputies are responding to multiple opioid overdoses every day, and naloxone is not a foolproof solution.

Montgomery County is located in southwestern Ohio, about 80 miles from the state capital, Columbus.

A Statewide Problem

The prevalent abuse of prescription painkillers, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl, has taken a severe toll on communities throughout Ohio.

According to the 2015 Ohio Drug Overdose Report, the Ohio Department of Health identified fentanyl as a main contributor to the state’s rising rates of opioid addiction and opioid overdose. The annual number of fentanyl overdoses in Ohio increased from 503 in 2014 to 1,155 in 2015. Over the same period, the total annual overdose deaths in Ohio increased from 2,531 to 3,050.

The 2015 Ohio Drug Overdose Report also noted that opioids were involved in 84.9% of all unintentional drug overdoses in Ohio in 2015. Experts believe that as many as 200,000 individuals in the state of Ohio are currently struggling with an opioid addiction.

Ohio Sues Drug Manufacturers

Reflecting the degree to which opioid abuse and addiction have impacted individuals and families throughout Ohio, the state’s attorney general recently sued five drug manufacturers for their role in promoting the increased use of dangerous opioids.

In May, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit in the Ross County Court of Common Pleas, claiming that five major drug manufacturers had contributed to the state’s opioid epidemic by engaging in fraudulent practices.

A May 31 press release that was posted on the website of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWineidentified the defendants in the lawsuit as Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, and Allergan.

“We believe the evidence will also show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans … addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” Atty. Gen. DeWine said in the release. “These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids.”

In the May 31 press release, Atty. Gen. DeWine also noted that the lawsuit was filed in Ross County because southern Ohio has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. Ross County is about 45 miles south of Columbus and about 77 miles southeast of Dayton, which is the county seat of Montgomery County.

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