The opioid crisis in the United States has received a lot of attention in recent years, which in turn has had a positive effect on the country prioritizing the crisis. The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that the number of people ages 12 and older in the US who misuse opioids has consistently decreased since 2015.
In Ohio, through statewide initiatives that were effective beginning in 2012, the number of opiates prescribed has decreased by 20 percent. This is good news for Ashland County as well. The county saw a decrease in the overall number of opioid doses prescribed per person between 2017 and 2018, according to the Ashland County Community Health Assessment.
Keeping doctors informed and encouraging them not to over-prescribing opioids has made a huge difference, along with recent changes in hospital procedures. Many hospitals now rely less on opioids and more on different methods of non-addictive pain medications in order to treat pain related to surgery or other health conditions. Ohio’s own Cleveland Clinic now relies on “greater use of narcotic alternatives before, during and after surgery” such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, according to Anesthesiologist Eric Chiang. This reduces the likelihood that patients will find themselves addicted to opioids after a stay in the hospital.
With all this good news, it’s easy to write off the crisis. Opioid misuse is a lingering problem in Ashland County and beyond, however, seeing its effects in a variety of ways. For one, parents with substance use disorders are often unable to care for their children, leading to a portion of these children ending up in the foster care system. As of 2015, for example, “parental substance use was cited as a factor in about 32 percent of all foster placements, a rise of 10 percent from 2005.”
Many states are having trouble with the demand for foster care placements, including the state of Ohio. The state saw an increase of 28 percent in 2018—which, according to The Columbus Dispatch, was due largely to the opioid crisis. This has strained the state’s budget (which some believe is low to begin with) and has caused high amounts of stress among Ohio’s child services workers, leading to greater employee turnover. Relatives and family friends often pick up the responsibility of child care, putting additional strain on the local community. Continued awareness of the opioid crisis, as well as on the state’s budget issues, could help contain and decrease these problems.
The increasing emphasis on prescribing fewer opioids is another aspect of the opioid crisis. With the decrease in prescriptions, some people are unable to get the pain medication they truly need and thus are forced to live with more pain than necessary. Patients forced to taper off the drug often experience painful withdrawal symptoms. While cutting opioid prescriptions generally means good news for the crisis at large, some patients who really need the drugs end up suffering unnecessarily.
According to Tami Mark, senior director of behavioral health financing and quality measurement for RTI International, a North Carolina think tank, “This national effort at ‘de-prescribing’ is . . . being undertaken with limited research on how best to taper people off opioid medications.”
The steps the US is taking to fight this crisis is producing mixed results and can cause other problems along the way. It’s important for communities to stay aware of the issue and to keep looking for positive ways to manage it.
The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County continues to work together with other local agencies, such as ACCADA, to help those affected by the crisis in our community. To learn more about ACCADA, visit our Community Partners and Agencies tab.