Greater Cincinnati is No. 1 on the University of Cincinnati’s recent list of the country’s 25 hardest-hit opioid hot spots — places where overdoses and overdose deaths are more tightly clustered than anywhere else.
“This is very important information,” said epidemiologist Diego Cuadros, who directs UC’s health geography and disease modeling laboratory, on Wednesday. “When we study other infections — malaria, for example — what we want to do is first try to understand why those areas have high risk of infection. So we want to do the same. We want to understand why those particular areas we called hot spots are experiencing a higher risk of opioid overdose.”
The 25 hot spots are spread across the country, including some in California, Washington, Arizona and Nevada, but nearly a third are in the “Rust Belt” — the northeastern industrial states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
Cuadros believes the number of overdoses corresponds heavily to the level of mental stress affecting people in a particular region. The stress experienced by people across the country in 2020, he added, is likely linked to COVID-19.
Dr. Shawn Ryan, chief medical officer at the Cincinnati-based addiction treatment facility Brightview Health, agrees.
“Early on during the pandemic, we had a lot of interviews around what we thought was going to happen,” Ryan said. “And for me, it was fairly, unfortunately, clear, because of all the factors that were going to be affected by COVID were things we don’t want to happen to our patients with mental health and addiction issues: transportation challenges, economic stress, family and social stress.”
White men still face the highest risk of opioid overdose as a group, but UC’s study found that the rate of overdose is growing fastest in a different group: Black men.
“This is, unfortunately, not a surprise for us,” said Newtown police Chief Tom Synan, who co-chairs the Hamilton County Addiction Response Coalition. “This demographic has been growing and increasing for quite a while.”
The study gives anti-addiction and overdose response agencies like his more data as they plan future programs and attempt to help people living with opioid addiction.