2021 saw record number of fatal ODs, gun deaths and car crashes in Ohio over 15 years, data shows

Last year saw the highest number of fatal drug overdoses, gun deaths, homicides and motor vehicle deaths among Ohioans in the past 15 years, according to data from the state health department.

It was also the third worst year on record for suicide deaths of Ohioans, right next to the record set in 2018.

Taken together, the data adds detail to a troubling trend of a 51% increase in deaths of working-age Ohioans over the past 15 years. Mortality falls into the category of what sociologists call “deaths of despair” – often indicators of larger ills related to the economy, access to health care, economic and geographic mobility, inequality racial and other complex societal issues.

The data comes from the Ohio Department of Health Mortality Database, which tracks deaths from 2007 to the present. It does not include historical data, which would show much higher rates of car accidents and homicides in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 2021, some 5,395 Ohioans fatally overdosed, more than tripling that number from 15 years ago. By state, Ohio had the fourth highest rate of fatal overdoses per capita the previous year, according to the CDC.

Also in 2021, 1,909 Ohioans died from gunshot wounds. This is the fourth straight year for new records for gun deaths in the state. This trend was partly attributable to a record number of homicide deaths (1,018). Conversely, suicides accounted for a lower percentage of firearm deaths in 2021 (53%) than in previous years.

Ohio has loosened its gun laws significantly in recent years. Republican state lawmakers passed legislation in 2020 removing the legal requirement to seek to stand down before shooting to kill in self-defense. They passed legislation this year removing training and background check requirements for carrying a concealed weapon. They also passed a law allowing teachers to carry guns in class after receiving some training.

Some 1,455 Ohioans died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, another new record for recent times.

The Ohio data tracks national trends in record numbers of homicides, unintentional drug overdoses, gun deaths and fatal accidents between 1999 and 2021, according to CDC data shared by the Department of Health. state health. The year also saw the second highest number of suicides nationally during the same period.

What to do with it?

Several public health researchers and policy analysts have weighed in on the mortality data.

Greg Moody, the health policy point man for GOP Gov. John Kasich’s administration and now a professor at Ohio State University, said Ohio has seen some of its progress against coronavirus deaths. despair erased.

The solutions are as complicated as the problem, he said. They must address the economy, racial and economic inequalities, political underrepresentation, wage disparities, pre-existing health conditions, untreated mental illnesses and others.

“COVID hit and the real problem became clearer to more people – differences in opportunity related to wealth and race directly impact health outcomes,” he said. “Wealth and race are correlated with the likelihood of exposure to COVID at work, job loss, depletion of savings, pre-existing conditions, access to care – when these are worsen, so do overdoses, alcohol-related accidents, firearm deaths, homicide, suicide, also heart disease, stroke, untreated mental illness and others. Until we get to the root causes, everything else is a trip to the ER.

Amy Bush Stevens, vice president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, said the deaths seem to point to problematic trends in society at large.

“One thing that’s particularly troubling is that these causes of death are largely preventable,” she said. “There are effective things we can do to reverse them.”

Some solutions are available, she said. These include expanding Ohio’s Good Samaritan laws, which protect people from criminal consequences if they help others who overdose on drugs; expanding access to naloxone, which reverses drug overdoses; or do the same for test strips to check for the presence of fentanyl or other synthetic opioids.

Other HPIO research has highlighted similar problematic data points. For example, firearms have become increasingly common in suicides since 2007; suicides among young Ohioans have increased since 1999, but the trend is more pronounced among young black people in Ohio; and chronic liver disease, which is linked to alcohol consumption, has increased by 74% since 2007.

Dan Flanney directs the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University and has studied overdose trends in Cuyahoga County. He said the increase in overdoses is likely due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl or carfentanyl which are increasingly prevalent in the drug supply.

“The past two years have been bad across the board when it comes to gun violence and overdoses in particular,” he said.

In Cuyahoga County, he said about two out of three people who fatally overdose have three or more substances in their system. It could indicate either someone intentionally using multiple drugs or a contaminated supply.

He joined calls for a public health approach to gun violence, offering an eight-point plan to do so. Several points he calls out, like banning high-capacity magazines, red flag laws, safe storage requirements, and others have proven non-starters in the state legislature controlled by the Republicans.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has studied the rise in road deaths in the pandemic era. It revealed that drivers are increasingly adopting risky behaviors such as speeding, driving under the influence and not wearing seatbelts.

Dennis Calhoun directs Harm Reduction Ohio, which advocates policies such as needle exchange programs aimed at reducing the risk of drug use. He said the trend lines all seem to point to the pandemic one way or another. He noted that patterns such as rising overdoses and gun deaths are also occurring nationwide.

Regarding fatal overdoses, he argued that one of the main factors was the closures at the US-Mexico border. These closures, he said, have stifled the supply of heroin and cocaine. This left a void in the market that was eventually filled by synthetics like fentanyl.

Policy responses

The Ohio Capital Journal shared the data with several state agencies and the two gubernatorial candidates.

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine, said the ODH data confirms national public health trends. And he noted that in the last 12-month period for which CDC data is available, Ohio has seen a decrease in overdoses — a positive indicator shared only by seven other states.

DeWine, he said, advocated for mental health, addiction services and law enforcement responses. He also called for legislation to restrict mobile phone use by drivers, as well as tougher penalties for violent offenders.

He pushed back against the idea of ​​drawing a line between the governor’s gun policies and the recent rise in gun violence.

“We do not see where the specific changes regarding concealed carry permits and school districts’ option to allow certain staff members to transport within a school safe zone would affect homicide or suicide rates,” a- he declared. “Concealed carry permits have generally been used by law-abiding citizens, and those who do not have the right to carry are not entitled to have concealed carry permits.”

Nan Whaley, a Democrat running against DeWine, said in a statement that DeWine is more focused on pursuing an “extremist agenda” than addressing issues that have escalated under his leadership. And the increase in gun deaths, she said, is not surprising.

“Unfortunately, due to his inability to stand up to the extremes of his party and the donors to his gun lobby campaign, the situation will only get worse,” she said. make communities less safe. Between the disturbing data on gun deaths and fatal overdoses, it’s clear that Ohio is certainly worse off under Governor DeWine.

Ken Gordon, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health, said one of the agency’s most important roles is surveillance to raise awareness and target resources. He also cited several ODH programs aimed at expanding mental health screenings; funding school-based health centers, some of which include behavioral health services; increase availability and awareness of naloxone; and a program that trained doctors to screen some 230,000 patients for opioid use disorders, which linked more than 7,000 to relevant health services.

Spokespersons for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and the Ohio Department of Employment and Family Services did not respond to inquiries.

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