“Ohio leads the nation in per capita overdose deaths and has become the posterchild of the crisis in national media.”

That’s how “Taking Measure of Ohio’s Opioid Crisis,” a report conducted by The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences on the sad realities of the spreading opioid crisis many Ohioans are experiencing starts out, making its case for expanded educational opportunities and better economic opportunities.

Report authors estimated there were probably 92,000 to 170,000 Ohioans abusing or dependent upon opioids in 2015. The calculated results of all that abuse, including costs linked to treatment, criminal justice, and lost productivity, fell between $2.8 billion to $5 billion. Added to that loss is the estimated $3.8 billion in lifetime productivity from those who died from an opioid overdose in 2015.

Putting the $6.6 billion to $8.8 billion of total losses in terms even Gov. John Kasich or the state’s hard-right legislature can understand, the cost to Ohio in 2015 was slightly more that the $8.2 billion of General Revenue Funds and Lottery Profits spent that year on K-12 public education.

More Education and Better Jobs

Mark Partridge, Swank Professor of Rural-Urban Policy at OSU, and report co-authors Mark Rembert, Michael Betz, and Bo Feng noted among their top observations that the opioid crisis is distributed unevenly across the state. In particular, the quartet of authors found that areas of the state experiencing lagging economic growth and low economic mobility had higher drug overdose death rates.

Overdose deaths were strongly linked to educational attainment, as the drug overdose rate for Ohioans with just a high school degree was 14 times higher than those with a college degree.

A link between prescription opioids and overdose rates was also found, as counties that had higher levels of prescription opioids per capita in 2010 also had higher overdose death rates in 2015.

Report authors say research shows that “the most clinically and cost effective method for reducing opioid addiction, abuse, and overdose death is medication-assisted treatment,” but Ohio “likely only has the capacity to treat 20-percent to 40-percent of population abusing or dependent upon opioids.”

The split between urban and rural areas of the state, that’s been hot fodder for political pundits and commentators who argue rurals trend Republican while urbanites trend Democratic, also emerges as a factor when it comes to helping explain the opioid crisis.

“Many people in rural areas of Ohio have extremely limited access to medication-assisted treatment,” the authors said of their recommended solution to turning the corner on the exploding crisis. They note that the issue is “particularly critical issue in the rural areas of Southwest Ohio where opioid abuse rates are high but local access to treatment is limited.”

Gov. John Kasich has refused to dip into the Ohio’s rainy day fund despite calls from lawmakers and community leaders across the state for him to do so. Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman made opioids and their abuse a central pillar in his reelection campaign last year. President Donald Trump has declared a national crisis on the issue, and many hope a federal budget will back up calls for more work with more funding.

The report offers near-term and long-term suggestions to battle and defeat the problem. It’s near-term solution is to prioritize expanding access to treatment in underserved areas.

“This would require working with physicians and hospitals in underserved areas to encourage providers to obtain the waiver required to prescribe opioid treatments to their patients,” the report says, noting that “Vermont offers an excellent model for expanding access to opioid treatment.”

Ohio In Crisis As Kasick Bones Up On Foreign Relations

For the long term, Ohio needs to do a lot more of what Kasich has failed to do with labor markets, which is to create more and better jobs, faster, especially in rural areas where resident with low education levels can’t move to areas where the jobs are.

Counties that were economically struggling in 2010, after the Great Recession swept through Ohio like it did nearly all other states, were more likely to have higher opioid overdose rates in 2015. Meanwhile, higher labor participation rate in 2010 appear to be associated with a lower overdose death rate in 2015.

“We find that counties that experienced a larger decline in manufacturing employment during the Great Recession had higher overdose rates in 2015,” the report says.

Not surprisingly, poverty was another factor cited by report authors for its association with drug overdoses. Counties with a higher poverty rate in 2010, the report notes, had high rates of overdose deaths in 2015.

Since Kasich became governor, Ohio’s ranking for its education system has dropped from 5th place, under his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, to 23rd nationally, in large part due to cutting the state share for education and for spending billions on for-profit charter schools that generally perform worse than the worst public schools they compete with.

While Kasich is boning up on foreign policy issues, as he transitions from elected state CEO to wandering independent in search of his old Republican Party that may no longer be in tact, he ought to finish his second term by focusing on the debris field he’s left behind instead of dreaming of a third run for the White House in 2020.

From the Report:

“To compare the grim numbers in the report to other grim numbers from other kinds of deaths, the current number of overdose deaths are greater than the peak number of car crash deaths (1973), AIDS deaths (1995), and gun-related deaths (1993) (Katz 2017). Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years old nationally (Quinones 2017).”

State Rep. Nickie J. Antonio, D-Lakewood, the lead Democrat on the Ohio House’s Health Committee, read the report and offered some sober comments on Ohio’s opioid overdose and addiction emergency.

“This report confirms that treatment is necessary to stem the tide of this opioid crisis, and clearly we do not have enough treatment options currently available,” Antonio said. “We can do better. We must do better. Taxpayers deserve better economic opportunities, a strong and affordable educational foundation, and greater access to healthcare services – all things that we know will prevent opioid addiction and abuse.”