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Drug overdose deaths jump 33% in Ohio

Accidental drug overdoses killed 4,050 Ohioans in 2016, a 33 percent increase over the 3,050 fatal overdoses in 2015, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Health.

Driving the spike is the emergence of fentanyl, carfentanil and cocaine laced with fentanyl, the health department reported. Fentanyl and carfentanil — synthetic opiate painkillers which can be hundreds of times stronger than heroin — played a role in 58 percent of the deaths last year. Among cocaine overdose deaths, 80 percent involved an opiate as well.

Fatal cocaine overdoses are up 61.9 percent and deaths linked to fentanyl and related drugs jumped 104 percent in 2016 over 2015.

Related: Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor opens up about her sons’ opioid addictions

The stunning increase comes after the state poured roughly $1 billion into efforts to combat the crisis, including expanding Ohio Medicaid to offer drug addiction treatment to tens of thousands of Ohioans.

“Ohio’s addiction epidemic has surged to unthinkable proportions. Current efforts are falling woefully short. It’s time to turn the state’s full attention to the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders,” said Lori Criss, Chief Executive of the Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Service Providers.

The 10-page report is available here.

There are some glimmers of positive news: heroin overdose deaths rose just 1.4 percent to 1,444 in 2016; prescription opiate overdose deaths continued a five-year decline, hitting 564 in 2016; queries to Ohio’s prescription drug monitoring database reached 24.1 million last year; and the total doses of prescription opiates continued its four-year decline.

“This progress is significant because prescription opioid abuse is frequently a gateway to heroin and fentanyl use later on,” said Dr. Mark Hurst, medical director for the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Still, as prescription painkillers are more difficult to obtain, addicts often turn to street drugs such as heroin.

Steps Ohio has taken to combat the crisis include: expanding Ohio Medicaid to provide drug addiction treatment services, distributing naloxone to police, firefighters and others to help reverse overdoses, stepping up enforcement efforts to catch drug traffickers, beefing up the state’s online prescription tracking database, shutting down “pill mills” that prescribed opiates with little medical justification, and instituting prescribing guidelines and rules for pain management clinics, short-term pain treatment and others.

Related: Ohio to start new limits on painkiller prescriptions

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican who is running for governor, issued a statement that said in part: “This is a crisis and needs to be treated as a health emergency.The primary culprit behind so many of these deaths is fentanyl flowing into our country from Mexico and China. Federal assistance is needed to stop this poison from coming into our country and killing our people.”

Earlier this year, Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, filed separate lawsuits against drug manufacturers, alleging that they used deceptive marketing practices to sell prescription opioids.

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