Ohio leaders are calling attention to drug overdoses in a new way.
The Buckeye State is observing its first Ohio Overdose Awareness Day today, Aug. 31. Gov. Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 30 in June designating the observance. Flags are lowered to half-staff today in acknowledgment.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, 4,028 Ohioans died of unintentional drug overdoses in 2019, which the department says was a 7% increase over 2018 figures.
But last year apparently was even worse. According to figures from RecoveryOhio supplied by DeWine via email, there were 4,579 unintentional drug overdose deaths reported January-November last year, a 24% increase over 2019.
COVID-19 fallout likely contributed to 2020's overdoses, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services alludes in a press release:
After a brief decline in 2019, overdoses increased sharply last year during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio’s medical and first responder communities attribute the increase primarily to fentanyl, a highly addictive and dangerous opioid. Although the numbers are being finalized, 2020 will likely prove the deadliest on record in Ohio for drug overdoses.
Fentanyl was involved in 76% of overdose deaths in 2019, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says.
For Ohio Overdose Awareness Day today, RecoveryOhio, the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services are distributing more than 120,000 additional doses of naloxone to communities across the Buckeye State.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that naloxone rapidly reverses an opioid overdose, preventing death. "It attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of other opioids," the agency says. "Naloxone can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose."
Ohio distributes naloxone through a network of programs under the umbrella of Project DAWN. There are currently 96 Project DAWN distribution sites, according to the program's website. Near Cincinnati, Butler County General Health District received a stipend for Ohio Overdose Awareness Day distribution and education.
In 2020, Project DAWN distributed more than 90,000 naloxone kits and received reports of more than 15,000 lives saved, a press release says.
"Naloxone has proven to save lives," DeWine says in an emailed statement Tuesday morning. "By getting it into the hands of communities and groups across the state in areas that are experiencing the most overdoses and deaths, we are putting this life-saving opportunity where it is needed most."
In May, Ohio put $2.5 million toward rapidly deploying 60,000 doses of naloxone to 23 counties demonstrating a higher burden of overdoses, a release says.