Deaths have fallen 8.7% in last six months
Remain near historic levels, though
Evidence is accumulating that overdose death in Ohio is declining in a modest but noteworthy way. Overdose deaths reported in the state’s mortality data has declined 8.7% in the last six months compared to the same period a year earlier.
As of June 9, a total of 1,519 overdose deaths have been confirmed and entered into preliminary mortality from December 2021 through May 2022 versus 1,664 overdose deaths a year earlier.
The data is only partial and preliminary. The final overdose death total will be much higher, especially in recent months, after all deaths are confirmed and categorized. However, the pace of reported overdose deaths has proven to be a reliable indicator of broader overdose death rates, according to Harm Reduction Ohio tracking since 2017.
Harm Reduction Ohio first reported on May 21, 2022, that Ohio seemed to be experiencing a modest but sustained decline in its overdose death rate. That article provides details on the drop and speculation on possible causes that remain valid in this June 9, 2022.
Pandemic effect fades slightly
Overdose deaths in Ohio have fluctuated dramatically since February 2020 when the Covid pandemic began, limiting shipment of larger, bulkier and safer drugs from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. The level of fentanyl in Ohio’s drug supply soared to record levels as the compact, potent, easy-to-smuggle, easy-to-make synthetic opioid displaced cocaine, heroin, meth and other drugs.
Fentanyl and its analogs are 9x more deadly than cocaine or heroin, based on a Street-drug lethality index. (The index was developed from Ohio overdose death and drug seizure data by Orman Hall, former drug policy advisor to Gov.. John Kasich, and his son Trent Hall, an addiction medicine physician at the Ohio State University.)
A record 574 Ohio residents died from accidental drug overdoses in May 2020. Another 503 perished from unintentional drug overdoses in June 2020. Those months are the only two times overdose deaths exceeded 500 in Ohio. However, deaths had averaged a horrifically high 400 or so deaths every month throughout the pandemic.
Timeline of decline
In September 2021, the number of Ohioans dying from unintentional drug overdose flattened, albeit at a devastating level of 400 or so deaths per month. In December 2020, deaths started to decline, and that modest decline appears to have continued since then — an 8.7% drop in December 2021 to May 2022 versus December 2020 to May 2021.
It’s unclear if this decline will continue or is a temporary blip. Overdose deaths rates often change quickly and unexpectedly in Ohio.
Death remains disastrously high
It’s also important to remember that, even with a slight decline, overdose death rates remain at catastrophic levels, worse than the death counts of 2017 when Dayton and Ohio attracted international attention for previously unheard of drug overdose levels.
The recent decline is merely a slightly receding level of death from historic levels of death among Ohioans who use drugs. Ohio residents use drugs at rates below the national average, so what’s driving death is not drug use levels but the amount of fentanyl in our state’s drug supply.
The pace of overdose death in Ohio