The number of opiate overdose deaths in Hamilton County dropped last year, a new report shows. But officials with the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, which released its "State of Heroin Crisis" report yesterday, say the region isn't out of the woods yet.
Though the Hamilton County Coroner's Office has yet to clear every case, so far, it has counted 440 overdose deaths last year. That is down 20 percent from the 570 the office counted in 2017, Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says.
Roughly 223 of those deaths were caused by heroin, according to the report — a 3.5 percent reduction from 2017.
There are a lot of reasons for that, according to coalition members. One is the increased availability of Narcan — more than 33,000 doses have been distributed since a group called the Narcan Distribution Collaborative began work in September of 2017.
Treatment options are also increasing, including on-demand treatment available at the Talbert House-administered Engagement Center, which is open 24 hours. That center served more than 400 people between May and December last year.
And a Quick Response Team, which includes a law enforcement officer and a substance abuse specialist, has been working across the county since April 2018 to refer more than 300 people to treatment.
There are other initiatives that don't directly prevent overdoses but do help slow the spread of disease associated with intravenous drug use. The Hamilton County Public Health Department's needle exchange program exchanged more than 350,000 syringes last year, the report says, and administered 287 hepatitis C tests and 389 HIV tests.
The coalition includes Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus, Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, Hamilton County Board of Health Commissioner Tim Ingram and representatives from a number of other agencies and nonprofits. Members from the group highlighted the progress made over the last year at a news conference introducing the "State of the Heroin Crisis" report, but also urged vigilance.
Some of the news in the report is a mixed bag. The county last year seized 55 percent less heroin than it did in 2017, but confiscated far more fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opiate that has been responsible for an increasing number of overdoses. Fentanyl seizures in 2018 were up 320 percent from the year prior.
Driehaus said more federal funding is necessary to fight the years-long increase in opiate addiction and overdose deaths. And while the number of deaths appears to have dropped last year in Hamilton County, Synan said the number of people losing their lives to addiction nationwide is still startlingly high and amounts to "tens of thousands of Americans dying each year."
Other efforts to combat those deaths are on the horizon. This year, the county will launch an arrest diversion program to get those addicted to drugs and facing related misdemeanor charges into treatment instead of the justice system.