By BRIAN BOHNERT
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
An average of 11 people died of drug overdoses each day last year in Ohio, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Health.
Fentanyl, carfentanil and other deadly synthetic opioids contributed to more than half of the record 4,050 accidental overdose deaths in Ohio last year. The total marks a 33 percent increase compared to the 3,050 deaths reported in 2015.
Illegally produced fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Carfentanil is one of the most powerful commercially produced opioids, said to be 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
In 2016, fentanyl and other related opioids were involved in 2,357 overdose deaths, while carfentanil was responsible for 340 deaths — most of which occurred during the second half of the year.
Cocaine-related overdose deaths also saw a dramatic rise from 685 reported in 2015 to 1,109 in 2016.
Heroin-related overdose deaths remained relatively steady with 1,444 in 2016 compared to 1,424 in 2015. Until last year, heroin had been responsible for the most unintentional drug overdose deaths since 2013.
Cuyahoga County saw the highest number of fatal drug overdoses last year with 547, followed by Montgomery County with 320, Hamilton County with 318, Summit County with 298 and Butler County with 211.
Locally, the numbers are significantly more promising. There were 21 Wood County residents who died of an unintentional drug overdose in 2016, down one from 2015. Hancock County had 19 reported overdose deaths last year, up six from 2015. Seneca County saw the greatest drop in the tri-county area, going from nine deaths in 2015 down to just five.
The decrease in the number of overdose deaths in Seneca County is largely due to the efforts of the Seneca County Drug Task Force-METRICH Enforcement Unit, which conducted 224 drug-related cases in 2016. Of those, 104 were in Fostoria.
The city has been the site of the most cases conducted by METRICH since 2015. From 2011-2014, the group had conducted the majority of its cases in Tiffin. Heroin was the most-purchased drug by METRICH agents during controlled-buy operations last year, followed by crack and cocaine.
The health department’s report does show some progress. The number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids was at its lowest since 2009. A total of 564 people died from prescription opioid abuse in 2016, down 15.4 percent from the 667 deaths on record for 2015.
“This progress is significant because prescription opioid abuse is frequently a gateway to heroin and fentanyl use later on,” said Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
According to the health department’s annual report, Ohio is investing roughly $1 billion each year to help communities throughout the state battle the drug epidemic. The resources made available on the local level include:
• Helping communities purchase the life-saving overdose combatant drug naloxone,
• Investing in specialized drug courts that link offenders with treatment,
• Providing “safe, stable housing” to help addicts recover,
• Increasing funding for those needing addiction and behavioral health treatment, and
• Enforcing state drug laws to prevent the illegal sale of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
The report states Ohio’s new two-year budget includes $170 million to support efforts to fight opioid abuse and decrease the number of fatal overdoses.
Additionally, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will receive up to $26 million a year throughout the next two years thanks to the federal 21st Century Cures Act. The funding will support medication-assisted treatment; prevention; screening; recovery supports; workforce development; and addressing secondary trauma among first responders such as EMS personnel, firefighters and police officers.
Fostoria Police Officer Cory Brian was a victim of such secondary trauma on June 22 when he was exposed to fentanyl while assisting a fellow officer on a traffic stop on West Lytle Street.
To see the state health department’s complete report, visit http://www.odh.ohio.gov/-/media/ODH/ASSETS/Files/health/injury-prevention/2016-Ohio-Drug-Overdose-Report-FINAL.pdf?la=en.