According to the 2019 Ohio State Health Assessment, overall wellbeing for Ohioans has declined. Trends in premature death, life expectancy and overall health status indicate that the health of Ohioans has worsened. Unintentional injuries (including drug overdose) were leading causes of premature death in 2017. Mental health and addiction … continue to be significant challenges in Ohio. Ohio’s performance on these priorities has worsened or remained unchanged in recent years.
Subsequently, the top health priority identified in the 2019 Meigs County Community Health Assessment (CHA) was substance abuse and mental health. A lack of hopefulness, depression and co-occurring disorders all being factors in a County that also struggles with the drug epidemic, the Meigs County Health Dept. (MCHD) has long combined mental health and substance use as priorities.
The Ohio State Health Assessment further notes, overdose death rates vary considerably by geography, sex and age. In 2017, one of the following groups had the highest rates: White (non-Hispanic) males age 25-44. Since Jan. 1, 2021, there have been 10 overdose deaths in Meigs County alone eight of which involved white males aged between 26-77 years. From Jan. 1, 2021 – June 30, 2021, there have been a total of 70 Meigs EMS runs in response to overdoses with 44 doses of Narcan (a medication used for the emergency treatment of known or suspected opioid overdose) administered.
Unfortunately, several new issues have emerged as a result of the addiction crisis in Ohio. As the drug overdose death rate has increased, so have the rates of other physical and social harms related to addiction. Troubling trends emerged in the data for two issues in particular:
• Hepatitis C. An infectious liver disease that can be spread through the use of shared needles, Hepatitis C has increased as a result of injection drug use. Hepatitis C contributes to chronic liver disease, one of the top 10 leading causes of premature death in Ohio in 2017. The number of new Hepatitis C cases increased by 49% from 2014 to 2016. A total of 21,882 new Hepatitis C cases were documented in Ohio in 2017. From Jan. 1, 2021 – June 30, 2021, there were 17 newly diagnosed Hepatitis C cases reported to the MCHD.
• Children in foster care. Children are entering foster care at unprecedented rates. From 2013 to 2018, there was a 28% increase in the number of children entering foster care in Ohio. Half of the children taken into custody in 2015 were removed from their homes due to parental drug use.
What can be done to reduce these harmful effects? Key informants of the Meigs County CHA noted a need to break mental health stigma and to increase education on drugs early and often, as well as the impacts of drugs not just on individuals but also on those around them. Increased access to care also was listed as a solution. If someone you care for struggles with addition, the MCHD, which is an active member of the Meigs County Community Prevention Coalition, offers training and free Narcan to community members, law enforcement and other first responders upon request. For more information, please call 740-992-6626 (Monday through Friday from 8AM-4PM).
Meanwhile, national Recovery Month is an observance held every September to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life. The 2021 National Recovery Month theme, “Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community,” reminds people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone in the journey through recovery. Everyone’s journey is different, but we are all in this together. Per the NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, Recovery Month will continue to educate others about substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders, the effectiveness of treatment and recovery services, and that recovery is possible.
In conclusion, all of us, from celebrities and sports figures to our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members, throughout our lives have experienced peaks and valleys, both big and small. But with strength, support, and hope from the people we love, we are resilient. Please contact the Gallia-Jackson-Meigs ADAMH Board at 740-446-3022 for information about accessing local mental health providers.
Courtney C. Midkiff, BSC, is the Administrator at the Meigs County Health Department.