Why is the Opioid Crisis So Bad in Ohio When Other States Are Not Nearly As Affected?
The story is a familiar one, and has played out all across the nation: doctors prescribe too many pain pills for too long, patients develop a dependency on them, and over time it becomes a full-blown drug addiction. No part of the country has remained untouched by the opioid crisis that has played out over the last two decades. Ohio has had it worse than most, however. In 2017, Montgomery County (home to the city of Dayton) became the “overdose capital” of the United States in terms of opioid deaths. Dayton has been hit particularly hard because it is the central distribution hub for illegal opioids being smuggled into Ohio. The problem has become so acute that county morgues are literally full, forcing the county to use emergency “mobile morgues” meant for mass-casualty events.
Montgomery County isn’t the only part of Ohio struggling with higher-than-usual rates of addiction and overdose events, however. Southern Ohio has been hit the hardest, but overdose rates are extremely high all over the state. There were 4,149 overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, a 36% increase from 2015 and a larger number than the national average.
We know that overprescription of pain pills, in large part fueled by the pharmaceutical industry, is the root cause of the surge in opioid problems across the nation over the last two decades. Ohio opioid epidemic statistics are consistently worse than the national average in almost every category, however. So why has Ohio been hit so much harder than other states?
Ohio’s Opioid Storm
Ohio is at the center of a perfect storm of conditions for an outbreak of an opioid epidemic. The state is flooded with high-strength product from drug cartels, the state lagged behind others in shutting down “pill mills”, and there have been long-running problems with the economy and available work. All of these factors play a role in the unusually high rate of Ohio drug overdose deaths.
Earlier, we touched on the fact that international drug cartels use Dayton as one of their major distribution hubs. The powerful opioids that land in Dayton are distributed not just in the city and immediate area, but throughout the rest of Ohio and nearby states. It’s difficult for an addict to find a place where dealers are not roaming the streets offering cheap and potent product. In recent years, the introduction of fentanyl to the illegal drug ecosystem has raised the stakes considerably. This super-powerful opiate is frequently mixed with heroin and other less potent opiates because it increases dealer profits. However, it also greatly increases the risk of an overdose.
And though Ohio recently introduced strong legislation limiting the length of opioid prescriptions, it was long overdue. The state was for a long time home to numerous “pill mills” that mostly preyed on communities with major economic problems. Pill mills knowingly overprescribe opioid pain pills for profit, seeking only to make as much money as possible while still working within the technical bounds of the law. Though new laws are taking a bite out of excess pill distribution, it will take some time for the results to really be seen.
Poverty and lack of economic opportunity also plays a role. Ohio has many communities that are lacking available work for all of their citizens and enough economic activity to sustain both vital services and recreational activities. Quite simply, a lot of people in Ohio have little money and nothing to do with their time. Opiates become a source of escape, used to blunt the psychological pain and anxiety that long-term poverty tends to create.
What is the Answer for Ohio?
Opioid addiction is a complex problem in Ohio, and there is no simple solution. It will take years of commitment to funding treatment for addicts, community outreach by law enforcement and other government entities who deal with the fallout of addiction on a daily basis, and changes to the law that curb abusive distribution of pills while still making sure people in chronic pain can get the medicine they need.
At an individual level, the best answer is qualified addiction treatment and recovery programs. While there is no absolute cure for a long-term opioid addiction, participation in an effective recovery program followed by ongoing maintenance activities drastically improve a person’s chances of avoiding relapse and taking back control of their life.
If you’d like to speak to professional about your addiction problem, call us at 1-800-429-7690 to be put in touch with a qualified counselor with experience in treatment for addiction.