Ohioans lost more than 1 million years of life in the last decade due to opioid overdose deaths, according to a new report from the Ohio Alliance for Innovation in Population Health.
The startling figure comes as the state continues to grapple with a crushing opioid crisis. In 2017, Ohio had the second-highest opioid overdose death rate in the country; preliminary data for 2018 suggests that rate has fallen slightly, but it is still very high.
To calculate how much life is being lost due to opioid overdoses in Ohio, researchers from Ohio University and the University of Toledo looked at state overdose death data from January 2009 to December 2018. For each person who died of an overdose, they subtracted the person’s age of death from their life expectancy.
They found that there were 1,028,005 years of life lost during that time period, stemming from more than 26,000 opioid overdose deaths.
“This is a devastating problem,” said study author Orman Hall, an executive in residence at Ohio University who is a public health consultant with the Ohio High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
“We want to make sure that policy makers continue to see this as a serious problem that still needs additional work.”
The data found that in 2017, when the overdose crisis was at its peak, Ohioans lost more than 188,000 years of life and the average lifespan in the state was reduced by 1.28 years The baseline for years of life lost in 2009 was slightly more than 53,000.
The report also shows that men are more impacted than women and the 20-29 age demographic was hit the hardest, accounting for 30 percent of years of life lost due to overdose deaths.
However, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that drug overdose deaths dropped nationally by 5.1 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, the first drop in overdose-related deaths since 1990.
Hall said the decline can be attributed to a number of factors including increased access to naloxone kits and expansions in Medicaid. He also said it depends on what drugs are more available at any given time—fentanyl and carfentanil, for example, are much more likely to lead to fatal overdoses than heroin or prescription opioids.
In a statement responding to the reported decline in overdose deaths, Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said many fatal overdoses could be prevented if more lawmakers embraced a harm reduction approach.
“It is unacceptable that many critical health and harm reduction initiatives—such as syringe access programs, supervised consumption sites, and voluntary evidence-based treatment—continue to face significant legal and other challenges, when they could instead be saving lives.”