Allen County saw decline in fentanyl deaths in 2023

LIMA — Fentanyl deaths are on the decline, a positive turn in an overdose epidemic that has killed at least 100 people in Allen County since 2020.

Preliminary Ohio Department of Health data show fentanyl-related fatalities in Allen County declined by 32 percentage points last year from their peak of 34 deaths in 2022.

The highly potent opiate is the leading cause of overdose fatalities in Allen County and Ohio, both of which reported declines in overdose deaths last year for the first time in several years.

Treatment for substance-use disorders is more accessible today than when the overdose epidemic started a decade ago, with a variety of support services like recovery housing, counseling, peer support groups and medically assisted treatments like buprenorphine.

Harm-reduction efforts to distribute naloxone, which temporarily reverses the effects of opiates like fentanyl, to people most at risk of suffering from or witnessing an overdose likely contributed to the decline in deaths as well.

“This is lifesaving medication,” said Bath Fire Chief Joseph Kitchen, whose department started leaving the nasal spray kits behind on overdose calls last year.

Allen County Public Health gave away 2,175 nasal spray naloxone kits, known by the brand name Narcan, in 2023 alone.

The medication once faced stigma, but public health initiatives to ensure drug users and their families could access naloxone without a prescription or high cost led to greater acceptance of the medication.

“We want people to stay alive,” said Katie Walker, clinical director for the Mental Health & Recovery Services Board of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin Counties, which formed an opiate task force in 2017 to coordinate a response to the overdose epidemic.

The board directs naloxone to people at high risk of overdosing when it receives reports of overdose clusters or large drug busts from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, Walker said, because people may purchase drugs from an unfamiliar source in those moments.

“A lot of people are surprised when their recreational drugs are laced with high-potency opioids like fentanyl,” said Micah Sobota, director of Coleman Health Services’ crisis stabilization unit.

The clinic is open 24 hours per day, providing emergency mental health care and medically managed detox for people suffering from withdrawal so people can start buprenorphine treatment.

“We can get them safely through that process,” Sobota said.