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New state dashboard helps communities better understand factors behind opioid overdoses

opioid overdose
Steve Heap
An Ohio State researcher says more Ohioans are taking drugs they don't realized are laced with opiates and overdosing. It's one point that's become clear with a new data dashboard run by the state.

Ohio has launched a new website with data on drug overdoses in all 88 of Ohio’s counties.

The idea is to help those fighting opioid addiction understand how to best slow the crisis, according to a media release from the state.

When people were isolated during the pandemic, the number of Ohioans overdosing jumped. In 2020, 5,017 Ohioans died from an opioid overdose, 25% more than in the previous year, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Local Ohio organizations working in drug addiction have often found it challenging to respond without reliable data about overdoses in their communities – especially as fentanyl exploded into the drug supply, said Ohio State University College of Social Work Professor Bridget Freisthler.

Freisthler said the data will help point to groups or areas where extra attention — or warnings — are needed to prevent deaths.

Those who are using cocaine or methamphetamine really don't see themselves at high risk for overdoses or death due to opioids because they really don't think they're using that drug," she said. "They're just not always aware that fentanyl is in the drug supply everywhere and it is incredibly deadly. So we had to change some of our messaging.”

The state dashboard shows that nearly 1,500 people died in 2021 across the state from overdoses that included cocaine.

Freisthler said local organizations can now use the dashboard data to understand if their programs are working, such as supplying drugs that can reverse an opioid overdose.

“They may think they've done a really good job of distributing Naloxone, but when they look at the numbers, the numbers maybe don't match up," she said. "It really gives them a better sense to be proactive, to figure out what is the data telling us.

The National Institutes of Health-funded dashboard is part of an effort to learn what local tools are most effective in combatting opioid misuse. This information has never been presented in one place before in Ohio, said Freisthler.

“It really is getting multiple state agencies to have their data housed in the same location, and not have to piece it together, go into a whole bunch of different websites, seeing what is, and what is not, available and can they find specific information for their county," she said.

Freisthler said there's discussion about seeing if regulations allow for the state to break the data down to zip codes or census tracks so that it could be used to isolate overdose hotspots where more resources are needed. But first, the team plans to expand the dashboard to include data about more substances, besides opioids.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.