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State of Heroin Crisis: County seeing "some success" as overdose numbers fall

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-07 07:13:11-05

CINCINNATI -- The number of local residents overdosing from opioids is showing signs of slowing in Hamilton County, according to newly released data.

Those figures and more were unveiled Tuesday in a "State of Heroin Crisis" report by the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition that details the epidemic's impact in 2017 and the plans local leaders have to battle the crisis this year.

According to the report, fewer than 200 overdose-related emergency room visits were logged in December and January. That's the first time the numbers have dipped that low since December 2016. 

"We are having some success, but the battle continues and we're not where we want to be," said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, who also chairs the commission.

Denise Driehaus

Other highlights from the report:

  • More than 260 grams of fentanyl -- a powerful, synthetic opioid -- were taken off the streets in 2017, Driehaus said. That prevented an estimated 131,600 overdoses.
  • Fentanyl continues to be the top killer in Hamilton County among those who overdose from opioids. In 2017, roughly 70 percent of overdose deaths involved fentanyl, compared to about 63 percent in 2016. 
  • Last year was the deadliest recorded year in Hamilton County for overdose deaths, with at least 336 deaths confirmed. That number could be higher than 400 as more cases are investigated, officials have said. In 2016, 318 deaths were reported.

Officials said the number of overdose deaths would have no doubt been even higher last year if local emergency responders hadn't been equipped with Narcan, a life-saving drug that reverses the effect of opioids. More than 13,000 doses of the drug were distributed across the county last year.

RELATED: Will 2018 be the year that our region beats heroin?

"I can't even imagine how bad this would have been and how many deaths there would have been," said Tom Synan, Newtown police chief and the head of the Coalition's law enforcement task force. 

Officials also unveiled several new efforts to tackle the crisis as the 2018 unfolds on Tuesday. 

Among them:

  • Launching a county-wide Quick Response Team to encourage people who have recently overdosed to seek out treatment and recovery options.
  • Ramping up Narcan distribution to 2,000 doses each month to a variety of local agencies and first responders.
  • Launching the Hamilton County Engagement Center, where individuals who have recently overdosed and have gone through detox can stay for a short periods of time until they are linked to longer-term treatment options.

Last month, officials with Hamilton County Public Health unveiled plans to expand the number of sites locally where syringe exchange services are offered in response to spikes in HIV and hepatitis C rates.

RELATED: These myths about drugs and addiction are making the opioid epidemic worse

Health officials say syringe exchange programs -- which give IV drug users clean needles and offer onsite medical testing -- are critical and proven to decrease the spread of life-threatening and costly infectious diseases.

The program, dubbed The Exchange Project, already hosts three sites in Cincinnati and one in Middletown. In the coming months officials hope to add the services in Anderson Township and Clermont County.

"Everything we're doing is about saving lives and getting people the help and treatment they need," Driehaus said.