Overdose deaths drop to 6-year low in Hamilton County, expected to drop statewide in Ohio

April 11, 2023

Terry DeMio,Cincinnati Enquirer

Fewer people died from overdose last year in Hamilton County than in any year since 2016.

The death count was 433 in 2022, said Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Hamilton County coroner, down 16% from the 515 overdose deaths in 2021.

The coroner ruled 403 people died from overdose in 2016. The highest year for these unintentional deaths was 2017.

In-depth:Overdose deaths dropped in Hamilton County for the first time since 2016. Why?

How are things different now compared to 2017?

In 2017, fentanyl in unwitting heroin users' supply became widespread, and other people began seeking the synthetic opioid for its potency. Also, the elephant opioid carfentanil was inundating Cincinnati. Deaths skyrocketed to 569, county coroner's records show. It was the highest death toll the county experienced from accidental overdoses ever.

Are other southwest Ohio counties seeing a drop?

Clermont County saw a dramatic drop in overdose deaths in 2022, with 30% fewer from the previous year. Fifty people died there last year compared with 71 in 2021, the county's 2022 overdose fatality review shows. That was the lowest count Clermont County recorded starting in 2014.

Butler County experienced a 7% increase in deaths, the coroner's office reported. In 2022 the Butler County Coroner's Office handled 184 total accidental fatal overdoses. 

"This was the highest total we have seen since our highest number ever of 232 in 2017," said Martin Schneider, spokesman for the coroner, Dr. Lisa K. Mannix. She noted that fentanyl contributed to 85% of these deaths.

What caused the drop?

Hamilton and Clermont county officials credit a multipronged approach to providing evidence-based treatment for people with substance use disorder, a large supply of the opioid antidote Narcan and the steadfast work of coalitions involving public and private health, law enforcement, social services, addiction and mental health peer supporters and prevention organizations.

Dr. Christine Wilder, medical director of UC Health Addiction Sciences and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said the dip in deaths could be a continuation of a decline in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted that trend, she said.

Are overdose deaths down nationally?

Across the United States 17 states have experienced a decline in overdose deaths in a comparison that went through October, but public health officials caution that reports are incomplete.

The percent change in Ohio’s overdose death rate is predicted to decline by 6.49% when comparing October 2021 to October 2022.

The final state toll will show slightly different numbers than counties' reports because of how deaths are counted by state vs. county officials. Sammarco said her numbers appear higher because she includes all overdose deaths that occur in Hamilton County, regardless where the person lived.


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