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2018 May Be Turning Point for Ohio Opioid Overdose Deaths

A stethoscope coiled into the shape of a heart on a blue background.

As we near the end of 2018, the latest public health data suggests we may be seeing a plateau in the number of opioid deaths.  ideastream’s Lecia Bushak joins "Morning Edition" host Amy Eddings with an update on this and other health stories that made headlines.

In September, state health officials said Ohio experienced a record number of opioid-related deaths in 2017, 4,854.  What do the preliminary figures suggest for this year?

The preliminary data suggests the overall number of opioid related deaths dropped this year, following that record number last year.  The Ohio Department of Health's figures show overdose deaths fell by 23 percent in the second half of 2017, compared to the first half.  And department officials say that slide continued into 2018.  We won’t have the exact numbers for 2018 until next year. 

Cuyahoga County’s Medical Examiner was able to give a clearer picture.  The latest figures (Dec. 13, 2018) show 579 overdose deaths for all drugs – this includes cocaine, heroin, prescription pain pills, either taken alone, or mixed with other drugs.  If that number holds up to the end of the year, that would be a big decrease from 2017, when there were 727 deadly drug overdoses.  It would be the lowest number of fatal ODs since 2015, when the county recorded 370 cases.  It’s still more than double what it was a decade ago, when the crisis first started (251 cases in 2008), but it’s an encouraging trend. 

Fentanyl is still the key ingredient in these deaths.  It’s found in more than two-thirds of these 2018 fatalities.  But even fentanyl-related deaths have dropped from the 2017 spike, from 492 to 407. 

Summit County’s Medical Examiner could not provide  specifics, but its office said it, too, is seeing a decline in overall overdose deaths this year as compared to last year.   

Another big story this year: The malfunction of a freezer at University Hospital’s fertility clinic in Beachwood in March, which damaged 4,000 eggs and embryos. Many patients of the clinic have filed lawsuits.  What's the latest there?

According to UH, 71 lawsuits have been filed to this point.  Common Pleas Judge Stuart Friedman issued a gag order in July, so there's been a restriction on the status of the case.  Friedman is required to retire at the end of the year due to age restrictions.  Ashley Kilbane will take over the cases in this matter.  The Democratic prosecutor is a new judge, chosen by voters in the Nov. 6 election over her opponent, Republican attorney Bradley Hull IV.   

Open enrollment in health insurance coverage offered on the Affordable Care Act's exchanges ended earlier this month.  How did the process go in Ohio, and how did the state's enrollment figures compare to the nation overall?  

Ohio this year received about 209,000 total sign-ups, a ten percent decrease from the 233,000 who signed up last year.  Nationally, there was a three percent decrease, from 8.8 million to 8.5 million.  Ohio saw a greater decrease this year than the nation as a whole.  Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation, said attributed the decrease to the Trump Administration's cut in fundings for promotional efforts and sign-up assistance.  She said it was the new consumers who were less likely to sign up, because they are the ones most in need of help getting their applications in.

lecia.bushak@ideastream.org | 216-916-6062