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'It's a disease': Ohio launches first statewide overdose data dashboard

A total of 5,017 people in Ohio died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2020
14 fatal overdoses in Warren County last month
Posted at 10:24 PM, Mar 07, 2023

CINCINNATI — A first-of-its-kind database launched in Ohio to better track and report data on overdose deaths and other substance-use-related measures.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the new public system Tuesday, which makes behavioral health data from multiple agencies accessible in a single location. It provides a county- and state-level picture of long-term trends in opioid use disorder, overdoses and treatment in all 88 Ohio counties.

The State of Ohio Integrated Behavioral Health Dashboard was adopted and expanded from dashboards created through the National Institutes of Health-funded HEALing Communities Study — the largest implementation study ever conducted in addiction research — aimed at investigating how tools for preventing and treating opioid misuse, opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid overdose are most effective at the local level.

Through the study, researchers at Ohio State initially developed dashboards for 18 counties in Ohio.

Using the public health data in these dashboards, communities partnered with researchers to determine which evidence-based interventions to implement to reduce overdoses and opioid misuse. Based on the success of these dashboards in the initial 18 counties in the study, the state and RecoveryOhio decided to implement them statewide.

"The dashboards allow us to use real-time research to focus prevention, treatment and recovery programs across the state in a transparent platform available to the public," RecoveryOhio Director Aimee Shadwick said in a release.

The dashboards report on 55 opioid-related measures including overdose deaths; high-risk prescribing; overdoses treated in emergency departments; naloxone units distributed by Project DAWN; and individuals receiving and being continuously enrolled in treatment and EMS events involving naloxone administration.

"Substance abuse is not a moral failing — it's not a choice, it's a disease, and if we treat it, then we'll stop losing people," said Lisa Mertz, president and CEO of Addiction Services Council, which serves Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Mertz said slow days are hard to come by for her and her staff. Most up-to-date data reports that there were 454 overdose deaths in Hamilton County in 2020 and between 50 and 70 non-fatal overdoses every week, she said.

"We visit emergency departments post-overdose almost every night to get people immediate access to treatment," Mertz said.

Since 2018, drug overdose deaths have risen across the state. A total of 5,017 people in Ohio died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2020, which was a 25% increase over the previous year, according to the Ohio Department of Health. 5,210 people died in 2021.

Mertz worries that number will only grow as drugs become more dangerous.

"We're starting to see fentanyl in marijuana, we're starting to see it in cocaine, methamphetamine," she said. "A kid picks up a pill from somebody at a party and it's pressed fentanyl."

But Mertz said she hopes the new statewide dashboard will provide the necessary tools, not just to respond but to intervene and prevent.

"We know if we can share more information with communities about addiction in their local communities the better the better they can respond and hopefully the more quickly and more efficiently they can target resources," Shadwick said.

The dashboard is just in its first phase. Currently, it includes data on opioid use disorders in those 18 and older. Shadwick said the next step is to expand the data to all substance abuse disorders and all age groups.

To help communities learn how best to implement the dashboards, RecoveryOhio will offer virtual training and virtual “office hours” over the next several weeks.