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Study Urges Ohio To Keep 'Constant Vigilance' About Opioid Crisis During Pandemic

Safe Point is Central Ohio's only needle exchange program.
Paige Pfleger
Safe Point is Central Ohio's only needle exchange program.

Drug overdose deaths in Ohio have been climbing in 2020, and a new study offers recommendations on how government funding could help reduce the numbers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the theme of the report being released is that constant vigilance is critical,"  says Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor with the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C.-based think tank. "This is still a public health challenge that hasn’t gone anywhere."

The center’s study tracks how federal funding is spent at the state and county level, examining Ohio, Arizona, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Tennessee and Washington.

Franklin County reported a 55% increase in overdose deaths from opioids in the first quarter of the year.

In Ohio, deaths jumped by nearly 7% last year – rising from 4,004 drug overdose deaths in 2018 to 4,280 in 2019.

“We're hearing, for example, that many syringe exchange programs, which are incredibly important for injection drug users to get them into treatment, doesn't promote drug use, many of those have been closed because of the pandemic, which is concerning," Parekh says.

Parekh says more attention is needed on where government money is spent.

“We need to evaluate current streams of funding to make sure that they’re effective going where they need to be to be effective,” Parekh says.

Ohio's federal funding to fight opioids has more than doubled since 2017 to about $271.5 million. The study finds that 80% of the money in 2019 went to treatment, recovery and prevention efforts.

Parekh says the addiction crisis is not only in rural and suburban areas. He points out money should also be directed to minority communities where overdose death rates have also been increasing in recent years.

“For communities of color, where there’s a treatment gap, we need culturally competent interventions to support individuals getting into treatment and being retained in treatment,” Parekh says.

Parekh says some treatment methods during the pandemic have expanded to include telemedicine to initiate medication-assisted treatment and meet the needs of individuals and families. The state has also relaxed rules to allow patients to take home doses of methadone.

“These are resources going to support prevention, treatment and recovery activities, also some resources for interdiction, which is critical given that illicit fentanyl continues to drive the epidemic, particularly in states like Ohio,” Parekh says.

Copyright 2020 WOSU 89.7 NPR News

Debbie Holmes began her career in broadcasting in Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University. She left the Buckeye state to pursue a career in television news and worked as a reporter and anchor in Moline, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee.