Monday, December 05, 2016

In Appalachian Ohio opioid epidemic soars, while state funds for treatment remains sparse

Columbus Dispatch graphic
A report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Ohio in 2014 led the nation in most opioid overdose deaths (2,106) and was fifth in highest rate of opioid deaths, at 24.6 per every 100,000 people.

The epidemic has been especially problematic in the state's southern Appalachian region, where it has flourished in areas with high poverty, high unemployment and scant public resources, Rita Price reports for The Columbus Dispatch. Joe Gay, executive director of the Athens County-based addiction and mental-illness-treatment agency Health Recovery Services, compares the opioid epidemic in Appalachian Ohio to Ebola in Africa. He told Price, “The places where the treatment system was least adequate was where it hit. And it spread and spread and spread.”

Gay said that state budgets for counties, as recently as 2010, "show that Appalachian counties with the highest rates of overdose deaths still were receiving far less non-Medicaid treatment money per capita than suburban counties with much lower overdose rates," Price writes. Gay told her, “It’s hard to convey how much worse things were before the Medicaid expansion. The whole system was broken. Now, the system is working but still has weak spots. But a lot of damage was done.” Medicaid was expanded in Ohio in 2014.

"Still, addiction remains rampant, with supply routes for heroin now firmly established in place of 'pill mills' dispensing painkillers," Price writes. "Many county officials wonder whether they ever will be able to respond to all the need. And in communities without tax-levy funding for mental-health and addiction services, there aren’t any local dollars to be 'freed up' as a result of the Medicaid expansion, said Robin Harris, who heads the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board for southeastern Ohio’s Gallia, Jackson and Meigs counties." (Read more)

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