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Ohio health leaders meet to discuss pandemic's role in rising overdose deaths

State health leaders are sounding the alarm when it comes to opioid overdoses - calling it the 'Epidemic within the Pandemic'.

OHIO, USA — From March 2020 to March 2021, more than 96,000 drug overdose deaths were reported in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s a record high for a 12-month period.

Now, some of the state's health leaders are sounding the alarm when it comes to opioid overdoses - calling it the 'Epidemic within the Pandemic'.

Mercy Health and Wexner Medical Center in Columbus hosted a symposium to discuss the rise in overdose deaths earlier this week as part of their Healthy State Alliance initiative.

"We've seen increases in overdose deaths to the point where overdose deaths in Ohio are the third leading cause of lost years of life for Ohioans,” said Dr. Andrew Thomas, Chief Clinical Officer at the Wexner Medical Center.

RELATED: New report from CDC shows a record-high number of Americans died from drug overdoses during pandemic

The Ohio numbers mirror those seen nationally. Experts with the Healthy State Alliance say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the numbers.

“While the pandemic has really pushed forward telehealth, not all of our patients have the ability to log on to telehealth. They either don't have a computer or phone to be able to access that,” said Dr. Robert Zukas at Mercy Health, St. Rita’s. “The stress of isolation and mental health issues often run hand-in-hand with substance use disorders.”

But access and isolation are just some of the issues leading to the rise in deaths;
Human trafficking, physical and emotional pain, and the increase in fentanyl are a few of the other reasons.

RELATED: DEA issues warning for fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and meth

"We have been making progress over the past few years but the number of opioid deaths have just skyrocketed for multiple reasons. One just being the amount of fentanyl on the streets and synthetically put into these opioid pills,” said Dr. Carson Felkel, with Mercy Health, Cincinnati.

The Healthy State Alliance has added providers and services across Ohio to help those who need it most.

They say it's important we all understand this rising issue to be part of the solution.