Representatives from Ohio State and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services gathered Thursday at the Statehouse to discuss the opioid crisis in Ohio.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated Ohio as fourth in the nation for the highest rates of death due to drug overdose, at 29.9 deaths per 100,000 people, and that rate is continuing to rise. To discuss potential causes and solutions, experts in academia, public officials, addictions survivors and Ohio Gov. John Kasich all presented cases for the biggest problems and the potential solutions for Ohio.
“We need to keep the perspective that this is a chronic disease,” said Mark Hurst, medical director of the Ohio Department of Health and Addiction Services. “We characteristically have treated this by short-term treatment, either on an inpatient basis or an outpatient basis, and then we’ve said, ‘Go forth and recover.’ Unfortunately, that’s not what this disease is. That’s providing acute treatment for a chronic disease.”
William Miller, chair and professor in the epidemiology department in the OSU College of Public Health, outlined a series of strategies that help to prevent and reduce the death rate from accidental opioid drug overdose.
Miller said that Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, works to help patients recover from opioid addiction. MAT is where patients use medications, such as methadone, to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal that result from ceasing use of opioids. These drugs are often not prescribed to treat patients with opioid addiction because they are so heavily regulated.
Also important, though, is how the patient is treated both inside the clinical office as well as in the outside environment by their neighbors and peers.
“Drug-use stigma is real and devastating. People who inject drugs, and even those who have quit face an intense stigma, pretty much worldwide,” Miller said, referring to the stereotype that people addicted to opioid drugs are just junkies or helpless addicts.
Taylor Stevenson, one of the speakers and a woman from Worthington who recovered from an addiction to heroin using MAT, said that the stigma is especially damaging for people addicted to injecting drugs.
“I chose to hide behind that stigma. I chose to hide behind the fact that everyone was telling me that I wasn’t going to be anything but an addict my whole life. I wasn’t going to amount to anything,” Stevenson said.
Kasich said that the long-term solution to the epidemic cannot be remedied by only top-down initiatives, though.
“At times you see and you read about the deaths and overdoses and all these things and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, what are we going to do?’” Kasich said. “We know what we’re doing and we have good programs and advice and, at the end, if we all work together, not just on this but on issues of poverty, issues of racism, issues of police and community, issues of our seniors who live at home and nobody ever spends any time with them, all of these things can be fixed if we decide we want to do something.”
Miller said that state and federal policies could have a big impact on making resources such as methadone more available to those suffering from opioid addiction.
“If you look at a lot of the treatment programs in rural Ohio, there’s no space,” Miller said. “And it often takes many weeks to be able to get people in, so we simply need more spaces available for people.”
The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between the Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.