According to an article published in the Washington Post last week, the problem of opioid-related deaths has gotten so bad in one Ohio county that they have actually started to employ the usage of cold storage trailers in order to supplement the lack of space in local morgues.
Stark County in Ohio started to use these cold storage trailers this year after they found that they were constantly running out of space, and the influx of newly deceased individuals did not appear to be slowing. Unfortunately, Stark County is not the only county in the state to have had to resort to such drastic measures, but last year, Montgomery County had to do the same, and now even rents space in local funeral homes.
Ohio has seen an increase of 774% in opioid-related deaths since 2003, the number skyrocketing from 296 to 2,590 in 2015. These numbers, while dramatic, and larger than most of the country, follow a similar trend that is seen in states throughout America.
Since the turn of the millennium, there has been an increase in opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths, to the point where many experts on the matter agree that what we face is an unprecedented opioid epidemic. This trend was driven by the FDA approval and mass prescribing of Oxycontin in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, which caused millions of Americans to become addicted to the extremely powerful narcotic.
As addiction levels soared, the federal government stepped in to try to curb the problem, and they imposed stricter prescribing standards for the drug. However, by the time that this was done, millions of people were already in the clutches of addiction, and so they had to seek out their substances by more illicit means.
Over the past two years, synthetic opioids have only added to the problem already at hand, as fentanyl, and to a much lesser extent carfentanil, have made their ways onto American streets, causing a dramatic increase in overdoses and deaths.
In 2015, over 33,000 people died from opioid-related causes, which for the first time in American history, meant that opioids killed more people than guns did. Last year saw a continuation of this trend, and while numbers have not been released yet, experts believe the death count to be higher. Some counties throughout the US saw an overdose occur every 2 hours, and just about every state can claim an increase in opioid abuse and opioid-deaths.
Ohio as a whole has taken a brunt of this damage, as last year in Cincinnati, 176 people overdoses on heroin laced with carfentanil in just 6 days and a number of videos have gone viral on the internet containing Ohio residents who were high on opioids.
In Stark County, Rick Walters, a long-term public servant in the public health sector, and an investigator for the Stark County Coroner’s Office said that in his 40 years of public service, he had never seen anything like what the county is currently witnessing. He told the Washington Post that last year, the Coroner’s Office had to spend $75,000 on toxicology reports alone, and that 1 in 5 deaths in the county are the result of opioids.
Facing these problems, the county has had to lean on the state for extra funding, and for the refrigerated trailer they are currently using to house deceased individuals. However, these solutions are only a temporary fix for the problem, and are not sustainable.
The Stark County Coroner’s Office have stated that they will need to have their facilities upgraded in order to deal with the onslaught of overdose victims they receive every week, but even in that solution, the death count will continue to rise.
Last year, bipartisan talks began on Capitol Hill about what the best way to combat the Opioid Epidemic is, but many of these conversations have come to a screeching halt with the changing of administrations and the introduction of a healthcare bill that would leave millions of Americans without access to substance abuse treatment.
One would only have to look to Stark County to realize that something is terribly wrong with the way we are going about dealing with drug addiction in this country, and to understand the legacy of corporate manipulation of information, such as what Purdue Pharma did with the release of Oxycontin, and a political system designed to criminalize the drug addict.
What we see in Stark County is the by-product of years of political misunderstanding and what blindingly following unsubstantiated policy can do to a country. It is the result of viewing drug addiction as a moral problem and not a disease, and unless we can shift this narrative, we will continue to see more problems like the one faced in Stark County.