Editorial: As deadly fentanyl claims more Ohio lives, evidence-based treatment is among the answers

A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Ohio and the nation are confronted with a drug abuse crisis typified by misuse of the powerful deadly synthetic opioid, fentanyl. And the death count continues to rise. Little wonder, then, that the task of addressing opioid abuse continues to be arduous in Ohio.

National Center for Health Statistics reported May 11 on national provisional data from 2021 showed a 23% annual jump in overdose deaths from synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl — shooting up from 57,834 in 2020 to 71,238 last year.

In Cuyahoga County, overdose deaths were up more than 11% as of the second quarter of 2021 compared with a year earlier, the county Board of Health has reported. “This has been a record-setting time period for the county, with at least 149 confirmed individuals who have died from a fentanyl/fentanyl analog or combination from March to June 2021,” the board added in its second-quarter 2021 report.

The lethal nature of fentanyl abuse, and traffickers’ frequent mixing of it with less-lethal drugs, was brought into sharper local focus earlier this month by the deaths of two Ohio State University students, one a Greater Clevelander, near semester’s end. The two deaths were attributed to accidental overdoses of drugs that might have been sold as Adderall and might have contained fentanyl.

What is to be done? Last December, the mother of a 20-year-old Ohioan who died of accidental fentanyl ingestion while away at college offered some important suggestions in a cleveland.com op-ed:

• More education and a far more honest, open discussion of fentanyl dangers with young people, including on college campuses.

• Broader distribution of naloxone to counter opioid overdose and of fentanyl test strips to check for deadly fentanyl before using any street drugs.

… Local health authorities have saved lives and been ahead of the drug-addiction curve in many ways — including in providing naloxone and fentanyl test strips and in diverting addicts from jail to recovery via the opening of the Cuyahoga County diversion center a year ago. But as the threat of fentanyl grows and widens, more must be done to focus resources on treatment programs for which evidence exists that they work.

… Opioid abuse is a scourge that ends lives and breaks hearts. Cutting supply, through law enforcement, is a key strategy.

But, on a state and local level, improved youth education, and stronger, evidence-based prevention and treatment approaches also are needed. For everyone’s sake, this is a fight that must be fought and won …

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 20