CDC: Ohio must address risk factors causing fentanyl deaths


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio must target anti-overdose interventions in eight counties that account for two of every three overdose deaths from the painkiller fentanyl, government scientists said Tuesday.

The state must also ensure widespread availability of an anti-overdose drug and that addicts have access to a variety of drug overdose prevention services, including clean needles when allowed by local policies, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most Ohioans dying from fentanyl overdoses were white men, with the average age 38 and with a span of ages from 17 to 71, the report said.

A history of substance abuse, mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, a recent release from jail or a treatment facility, and use of high doses of painkillers were among risk factors for a fentanyl overdose, the report said.

CDC scientists visited Ohio last year at the request of state officials and in the wake of data showing the state experienced 502 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014, up from 84 the year before.

Last week, the Cuyahoga County medical examiner said 12 people died from overdoses due to heroin, fentanyl or a combination in just five days beginning March 10.

Fentanyl is often laced with heroin or in some recent cases disguised to look like less powerful drugs such as Oxycodone. As a treatment, fentanyl is prescribed to people suffering chronic pain, such as end-stage cancer patients.

Officials blame illegally manufactured fentanyl for the current wave of overdose deaths.

Among other CDC recommendations:

– Support for continued testing of fentanyl by coroners and medical examiners, especially in deaths where painkillers are suspected.

– Ensure first responders such as paramedics are aware of the potency and speed of fentanyl, and the likely need for multiple doses of the anti-overdose drug naloxone to resuscitate victims.

– Do more to stop doctor-shopping addicts in seek of painkillers, and do more to identify “high risk prescribing” of painkillers associated with overdoses.

The CDC team visited health centers in Cuyahoga, Hamilton and Montgomery counties and the city of Portsmouth.

The administration of Gov. John Kasich, a Republican running for president, has issued a series of guidelines in recent months meant to reduce painkiller prescriptions.

Last year, Kasich said Ohio would make up to $1.5 million available annually for prescribers to integrate their computer systems with a database that tracks patients’ prescribing history.

The eight counties with the highest fentanyl overdose deaths in 2014: Hamilton, Montgomery, Summit, Butler, Cuyahoga, Clermont, Stark and Lucas.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press

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