BY VIVIAN LIVESAY ’21
According to the Ohio Department of Health, Montgomery County, Ohio, had the highest rate of accidental opioid overdoses in the state, with 521 fatalities per 10,000 people in 2017. Within the Montgomery County, the city of Dayton was hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. However, according to an article published last week in the New York Times, despite the overall increase in drug-related deaths, the county has managed to cut down its overdose rate by more than half in the past year, hopefully setting an example for the rest of the country to follow.
The biggest factor in decreasing fatal overdoses may be increased access to medical treatment. In 2015, Ohio governor John Kasich expanded Medicaid, thereby extending affordable addiction treatment to 700,000 low-income adults. This in turn has led to the opening of more treatment centers in the area. A report released last week by the CDC shows that the life expectancy for Americans decreased in 2017, with increases in the mortality rates of seven of the ten most common causes of death. The agency reported that drug overdoses accounted for a third of unintentional injury deaths and a tenth of suicide deaths. In order to address the problem, it is crucial to investigate the factors that are causing so many opioid-related deaths.
Taylor Hall ’21 lives in rural Vermont, another area of high opioid fatalities. “A lot of people in my area don’t have health insurance, because they’re farmers,” she said. “Once a person loses their health coverage, they also lose access to their prescription opioids, which is when they move to heroin.” However, she spoke positively about a newer program in her area, which uses methadone to treat people going through opioid withdrawal and saw a lot of success in helping addicts get clean.
Additionally, many lives have been saved in Ohio and Vermont by increased awareness and use of naloxone, a medication which can stop an overdose long enough to get medical attention. Naloxone, also known under the brand name Narcan, has been distributed widely throughout Montgomery County; many different organizations host training sessions for ordinary people to learn how to administer naloxone, and police officers are now required to carry the drug.
Despite the overall positive effect of such strategies, there has been some pushback against measures which can be perceived as “enabling” addicts, including naloxone-equipped officers and needle exchange programs, which prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.
For the average user, addiction is much more of a medical problem than a moral or criminal one, even if they find themselves resorting to petty crimes to fund their addiction. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46 percent of all inmates in the United States are incarcerated for drug offenses.
Julia Klukoff ’21 addressed how the nation views addicts. “I think we need to understand that addiction is a mental illness and not a character flaw,” said Klukoff. “It needs to be treated like other mental illnesses and addicts deserve compassion, not guilt-tripping.”