SCIOTO — Fears that the coronavirus could lead to increased opioid overdoses have become a reality in Ohio and Scioto County.
With decreased social interaction, increased unemployment, and overall less attention given to overdoses, health officials are worried about potentially drastic consequences.
Overdose deaths have long been a concern in the county and Ohio, gaining state and national media attention. While statewide overdoses trended down in 2018, Harm Reduction Ohio estimated an 8% increase in 2019 with Akron, Columbus, and Portsmouth identified as the hardest hit metro areas.
Based on reported deaths by the Ohio Department of Health, Scioto County had 79 overdose deaths in 2019 as of Feb. 22. One of 28 counties that saw deaths rise compared to 2018, the county’s increase by 32 deaths was the second-largest jump in Ohio. Surrounding counties, like Pike, Ross, Jackson, Adams, and Lawerence reported decreases in overdose deaths.
2020 data from the Scioto County coroner’s office is still being processed, but from what information they have received, overdose deaths are playing a significant role in mortality. Since the start of the year, the coroner’s office has filed 74 autopsy reports to the Montgomery County coroner’s office in Dayton and received 54 summary results. Of those results, 36 were drug overdose deaths. The current picture is hard to see, as the office says it can take up to 12 weeks for the Dayton office to process and return its findings to Portsmouth.
Working to draw attention for this issue ravaging the area, Interim Portsmouth City Health Department Director Belinda Leslie has written multiple op-ed articles for the DailyTimes throughout the past year on the two epidemics- coronavirus and opioid overdoses- and their relationship with one another.
“In these stressful and uncertain times, it’s easy to lose sight of the opioid epidemic and focus solely on COVID-19. People with OUD (opiod overuse disorder) deserve better,” wrote Leslie in her “Two Epidemics” piece from May.
Sensing a need for medical support, BrightView, an outpatient treatment system, opened its doors in Portsmouth July 6. The facility offers both inperson care, taking precautions due to COVID-19 and Telehealth treatment with hours six days a week and a 24/7 hotline.
To lead a turnaround, BrightView chief clinical officer Dr. Navdeep Kang said it is essential for treatment centers to not work in isolation, but rather through integration with public health, school districts and the justice system. It requires more than medical treatment, he said, to slow the spread of this epidemic.
“More than just abstinence from substance use, it also involves workforce development, disentanglment from the legal system, getting their children back if lost as an outcome of addiction,” said Kang, who has been with BrightView since September. “Our endeavor is to work closely with others, but to add other people to the puzzle.”
PCHD has addressed the issue this year through new partnerships, like the HEALing Communities Study, which would provide more treatment and medications to the county. Leslie announced the partnership in a June op-ed, joining due to shortages in medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone and a lack of funding. This study, along with the Recovery Gateway Program, receiving funds from the Rural Responses to the opioid Epidemic grant, will be used by local hospitals and for staff training.
BrightView’s Portsmouth location is 1404 11th Street. PCHD can be reached at 740-353-5153 and is located at 605 Washington Street.
Reach Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter. © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.