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Hamilton County overdose deaths increased in 2021, but advocates say numbers are stabilizing

COVID causes challenges for recovery advocates
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Posted at 7:46 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 19:46:15-04

CINCINNATI — The number of overdose deaths in Hamilton County was slightly up in 2021, but a report from the county's Addiction Response Coalition shows numbers might be stabilizing.

Hamilton County’s task force designed to lower the number of opioid overdose deaths released its State of the Addiction Crisis report Friday, noting how COVID-19 impacted recent efforts.

“We’ve had some challenges, particularly through COVID, when it was difficult to connect to people face-to-face,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus.

Scottie Works understands that difficulty firsthand as he got clean in July 2020. Therapy and support services for those in recovery were done via video during that time.

“It adds a sense of hopelessness to an already hopeless situation,” Works said. “The isolation part was real... It's much better face-to-face.”

Data shows the number of people who died due to overdose in Hamilton County increased to at least 381 people in 2021. Driehaus said some death investigations are still pending.

“Unfortunately, we still see close to 50 to 70 overdoses a week,” said Chief Tom Synan, Hamilton County Heroin task force leader. “What we’re trying to do is stabilize those deaths.”

Drugs recovered in 2021 include fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and counterfeit pills. Dr. Jennifer Mooney with Hamilton County Public Health said they are seeing "an ever-increasing" presence of methamphetamine and cocaine-related overdose deaths.

Mooney said doctors are using data from autopsies to send resources to specific communities as the Addiction Response Coalition works to bring down the number of overdose deaths. She said the number of people involved in the coalition is unprecedented, with 350 people from 137 different agencies participating.

One of the coalition's focuses is the Hamilton County One-Stop Resource Center, a place that gives all individuals and families, including those with criminal convictions, access to supportive services for mental health care, substance abuse, housing, health care and more.

Works, who was at the center Friday, said he believes he's an example of the work the coalition has done.

“I remember sleeping under a bridge and I felt like this is where I belong,” said Works. "I remember mice in my pant legs."

Now, Works has a job and met his son.

“He turns 18 this weekend. I’m going to spend his birthday with him," Works said. "I talk to my mom now. If I can do it, anybody can do it.”

The Hamilton County One-Stop Resource Center is open the last Friday of each month. For more information, click here.