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Ohio sees record high number of heroin overdose deaths

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A record number of Ohio residents died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013, the state Department of Health said Thursday as it released the newest available figures for a problem that’s been called an epidemic and a public health crisis.

The state said 983 people died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013, up from 697 deaths in 2012.

The heroin increase also drove up the overall number of fatal drug overdoses to 2,110 deaths in 2013, compared to 1,914 the previous year. Fatal drug overdoses remain the leading cause of accidental death in Ohio, above car crashes, a trend that began in 2007.

The state said deaths related to prescription painkillers also rose, to 726 in 2013 from 680 the previous year.

Heroin addiction has been increasing as prescription painkiller abusers turn to the cheaper and more readily available drug.

Midway through 2011, Ohio enacted a law meant to reduce the number of pills-on-demand clinics where many addicts were receiving pain pills under questionable circumstances.

The numbers show that state efforts to fight the addiction problem – many launched in 2013 and later – will take time, said Health Director Rick Hodges.

“We know that we’re doing the right things, but the data underscore the need to redouble our efforts,” Hodges said.

In Trumbull County in northeastern Ohio, the heroin epidemic is intensifying.

The county has 16 confirmed overdose deaths so far this year, 54 last year and 39 in 2013, county coroner Humphrey Germaniuk said at an April 24 substance abuse conference, the newspaper said.

Lawmakers have made efforts recently to expand distribution of an overdose antidote. Proposed legislation would allow distribution of naloxone by individuals authorized by a doctor, including an addict or a relative or friend. It also would allow pharmacies to distribute the drug without a prescription.

In a Lorain County pilot program in 2013, naloxone saved 63 lives, the state Health Department said. Ohio emergency medical responders administered naloxone 12,256 times in 2013 and 15,493 times last year, the state said.

Drug overdose deaths dropped from 2012 to 2013 in Lucas County, home to Toledo, and Summit County, home to Akron, highlighting those areas’ collaborative approach to the problem, said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

This month, a panel tracking accurate numbers of heroin-related overdose deaths recommended all Ohio coroners track each drug involved in an overdose death. Specifically reporting the drugs on a death certificate will allow the uniform collection of data statewide, according to the panel.

Attorney General Mike DeWine formed the committee after determining the total number of heroin-related overdose deaths couldn’t be tallied because of a lack of standard counting methods.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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