(September 1, 2017) Ohio’s opioid epidemic continued to evolve in 2016 to stronger drugs, driving an increase in unintentional overdose deaths, according to a report recently released by the Ohio Department of Health. The data shows a significant increase in overdose deaths involving the opioid fentanyl, the emergence of more powerful fentanyl-related drugs like carfentanil, and indications that cocaine was used with fentanyl and other opiates. The data also shows some promising progress – the fewest unintentional overdose deaths involving prescription opioids since 2009 (excluding deaths involving fentanyl and related drugs).
Illegally produced fentanyl can be hundreds of times stronger than heroin, and carfentanil and other related drugs can be stronger than fentanyl. In 2016, unintentional drug overdoses caused the deaths of 4,050 Ohio residents, a 32.8 percent increase compared to 2015 when there were 3,050 overdose deaths.
Fentanyl and related drugs were involved in 58.2 percent (2,357) of all unintentional drug overdose deaths in 2016. By comparison, fentanyl was involved in 37.9 percent (1,155) in 2015, 19.9 percent (503) in 2014, 4.0 percent (84) in 2013, and 3.9 percent (75) in 2012. With the emergence of carfentanil in 2016, the fentanyl-related drug was involved in 340 overdose deaths, most of them during the second half of the year. For males and females respectively, the largest number of fentanyl and related drug overdose deaths were among the 25-34 age group. The increase in fentanyl and carfentanil overdose deaths in 2016 corresponded with an increase in drug seizure reports by law enforcement.
The number of cocaine-related overdose deaths rose significantly from 685 in 2015 to 1,109 in 2016 — a 61.9 percent increase. Of cocaine-related overdose deaths in 2016, 80.2 percent also involved an opiate, and 55.8 percent involved fentanyl and related opiates in particular.
The number of overdose deaths involving heroin remained relatively flat with 1,444 overdose deaths in 2016
compared to 1,424 in 2015.
Despite the numbers, unintentional drug overdose deaths, the percentage of prescription opioid-related deaths in Ohio declined for a fifth straight year in 2016 (excluding deaths involving fentanyl and related drugs), and the number of these deaths declined 15.4 percent from 667 in 2015 to 564 in 2016 — the fewest since 2009.
This decline corresponded with Ohio’s efforts to reduce the prescription opioid supply available for diversion and abuse through law enforcement efforts, working with medical professionals to establish opioid prescribing guidelines, and empowering prescribers and pharmacists to prevent opioid abuse using Ohio’s prescription drug monitoring program, the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS). Doctors and other prescribers are required to check OARRS before prescribing an opioid or benzodiazepine to see what controlled substance medications a patient might already be taking. A May 2016 fact sheet from the American Medical Association showed that Ohio led the nation in prescription drug monitoring in 2016 when OARRS received more than 24 million queries from Ohio prescribers — far more than any other state. The number of OARRS queries in Ohio increased from 1.8 million in 2011 to 24.1 million in 2016.