A Letter on the Opioid Epidemic

Dear Editor,

Our nation continues to deal with an ongoing epidemic: the opioid crisis. Sadly, Ohio remains one of the most affected states in the nation. In 2013-2104, almost three percent of the state’s population had indicated they had illicit drug abuse or dependence, which was slightly above the national average.  The rates of opioid related deaths have also increased, partly due to increased access to prescribed opiates, heroin, and synthetic opioid analogs in recent years. Yet, a majority of people who need treatment for opioid use disorder are not receiving treatment, despite the fact that evidence-based treatment exist with effort to increase access to these interventions. We must understand and address the barriers to engaging people in treatment.

According to CDC, there were 4,329 drug overdose deaths in Ohio in 2016, at a rate that is second only to West Virginia.  In recent years, this trend has been worsening, and the cost of this threat continues to mount with statewide and nationwide implications for our health and wealth. While overdose deaths remain the most reliable means of quantifying the impact of the epidemic, the associated cost of healthcare and treatment, lost productivity, law enforcement and the burden on affected individuals and communities cannot be overemphasized. The active labor force in Ohio shrank by 300,000 in 2016, from about 6 million in 2007, and experts believe the opioid crisis accounts for a third to more than a half of this decline. It is estimated that the annual cost of billion on opioid addiction, abuse, lost productivity and overdose deaths in Ohio in 2015 was between 6.6 billion to 8.8 billion, an amount that compares to state spending on  education that year.

The opioid epidemic is indeed one daring challenge of our generation, and we must face it head on. I am encouraged by the fact that our national and local leaders seem to grasp the gravity of this burden, responding with increasing effort to fight the epidemic. The US Senate passed a sweeping bill with provisions for research, treatment and support for persons and families affected by the epidemic. This important action is in the right direction, and we must not give up on our collective responsibility to sustain urgent community-level interventions that promote treatment and recovery.

Rosemond Darkwa