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Suicide, alcohol, drug deaths projected to soar in Ohio

By Catherine Candisky • Nov 21, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Fueled largely by the opioid epidemic, Ohio's drug, alcohol and suicide death rate could soar by 47 percent in the coming decade.

A study released Tuesday projects Ohio's mortality rate from those three causes will total nearly 75 per 100,000 deaths or 11th highest in the nation by 2025, up from the current rate of 51 per 100,000 deaths or 13th in the U.S.

Nationally, drugs, alcohol and suicide could take 1.6 million lives over the coming decade, a 60-percent increase over the last 10 years as substance abuse and suicide have contributed to a decrease in Americans' life expectancy for the first time in 20 years.

"These numbers are staggering, tragic — and preventable," said John Auerbach, president and chief executive officer of the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group that commissioned the report with Well Being Trust.

"There is a serious crisis across the nation and solutions must go way beyond reducing the supply of opioids, other drugs and alcohol. Greater steps — that promote prevention, resiliency and opportunity -- must be taken to address the underlying issues of pain, hopelessness and despair."

Not surprisingly, drug overdoses make up about two-thirds of the drug, alcohol and suicide death rate in Ohio. According to state statistics, a total of 4,050 drug overdose deaths, largely from opioids, occurred in Ohio last year, an increase of 33 percent from 2015.

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The report notes that the state has been particularly hard hit by the rapid growth of prescription opioids starting in the late 1990s and a more-recent rise in use of heroin cut with potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. For instance, in the first two months of 2017, almost all the overdoses in 24 Ohio counties involved fentanyl or an analog, with death rates highest in Appalachian counties.

"While the crisis have received much attention, this report finds the actions that have been taken to date are severely inadequate," the 200-page report, "Pain in the Nation," concluded.

Among the alarming trends was a 20-percent decline over the past 15 years in life expectancy nationwide among middle-aged whites with less than a college education. The spike was attributed to a surge in deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, liver disease and suicide.

West Virginia's health commissioner, Dr. Rahul Gupta, said on a conference call with reporters, "People are really playing Russian roulette every time they inject drugs" given the prevalence of street drugs laced with deadly fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Suicide deaths increased by 28 percent since 2000 to claim more than 44,000 lives nationwide in 2015, with rural suicide rates 40 percent higher than in metro areas.

"Why should anybody be surprised that so many individuals who are confronted with traumatic circumstances arising from the despair and chaos of poverty, deprivation, and untreated mental illness and addiction die from suicide or overdoses," said Terry L. Russell, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Ohio.

"If we don't address our problems, things either stay the same or get worse. In relationship to mental illness, for whatever reason, society turns their heads and lets children and all others with mental illness become so desperate there are tragic results."

The report calls for a comprehensive response including prevention, early identification and treatment and recommends more than 60 policies and programs to reduce deaths and improve well being.

"Ohio is already deploying many of the recommendations including instituting responsible opioid prescribing rules and developing a wide-ranging suicide prevention plan, which includes the establishment of a statewide Crisis Text Line, Be Present youth suicide prevention campaign and Local Outreach for Suicide Survivor (LOSS) Teams and support groups," said Eric R. Wandersleben, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services.

The report notes Ohio has implemented some of the recommendations, including a state program to monitor opioid prescriptions, a Good Samaritan law protecting people who report overdoses and requiring training in suicide prevention for school personnel. However, it stresses much more is needed given that that deaths continue to rise.




(c)2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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