Clark County saw a record number of accidental drug overdose deaths last year, which local leaders said was caused by the opioid epidemic that’s spread across the country.
The majority of the 79 drug deaths in Clark County last year involved heroin and illicit fentanyl, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said. Many of the deaths involve multiple drugs, including cocaine and other designer fentanyls, which he said is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
“I honestly don’t know what the solution is,” Marsh said.
Several approaches to curb the epidemic exist, he said, including getting more people into treatment.
“I get the sense that a lot of people think they can tough it out themselves,” Marsh said. “The problem is addiction is a disease. Once you get hooked, it’s changed your brain. People do get detox, but we all think we can tough it out and you can’t. It takes help. It’s going to overpower you.”
About half of the people who died of drug overdoses last year were between the ages of 45 and 64, records show. Nearly 89 percent of the people who died were white.
Through February, another 32 deaths this year are suspected drug overdoses. Twelve of those drug deaths have been confirmed, while the rest are awaiting toxicology reports.
Springfield and Clark County EMS crews have responded to more than 325 overdoses this year as of March 6, according to Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson. One weekend in January, more than 50 overdoses were reported at the Springfield Regional Medical Center.
Nearly 500 people have died of drug overdoses in Clark County since 1998, according to coroner’s office records. More than half of those people — 265 — have died in the past five years, the result of the opioid epidemic, Marsh said.
Clark County saw about 36 drug overdose deaths per year between 2011 and 2014, but that number more than doubled with 73 in 2015.
The record number last year isn’t surprising based on a large spike of 11 overdose deaths in December, Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said.
Any effort to make additional recovery services available is a good thing, he said, including cutting down on the waiting list time for people who are seeking immediate help.
“The more open spots we can provide for folks who want to seek treatment, we need to continue to push on that,” he said.
The county must also continue prevention efforts, Patterson said.
“It’s obviously the No. 1 thing, but we do have folks who are addicted and we need to make those services available as easily to enter and as wide stretch as we can,” he said.
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He also supports Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson’s new effort to charge people who haven’t sought treatment within 30 days after an overdose as part of the new Good Samaritan law in Ohio.
“Sometimes it takes a court mandate for that treatment to occur,” Patterson said. “We’re not about putting people in jail, but if there’s a way we can get people to wake up by forcing them to go and still get a good result, that’s awesome. What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working.”
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