Ohio Among Top Four States for Opioid-Related Addictions and Death

Ohio city

A glance at media headlines reveals that the drug addiction epidemic in the United States is still very much an epidemic. It’s a vicious, crippling problem that causes no end of suffering among those addicted and their families.

A recent story on NPR brought my attention to Ohio. While drug addiction has touched down in all states, it seems to have hit Ohio and other Midwestern and Appalachian states particularly hard. Ohio was just a metaphorical stone’s throw from where I grew up, so I decided to explore further.

What I found was quite shocking. More people have been dying in Ohio from opiate overdoses than in any other state in the nation.

Statistical Data on Ohio’s Drug Addiction Epidemic

Though all U.S. states have been affected in some way by the growing drug problem, some states have been affected more harshly than others. Ohio is one such state. According to the CDC’s drug-related mortality data for 2017, Ohio is among the top four states for the highest per capita rate of death due to drug overdoses. Let’s take a look at the data:

  • In West Virginia in 2017, 57.8 people died from overdoses for every 100,000 people in the state.
  • In Ohio, in that same year, 46.3 people lost their lives to drugs for every 100,000 residents.
  • In Pennsylvania, in 2017, 44.3 people died from drug overdoses for every 100,000 people.
  • In 2017, Kentucky lost 37.2 residents to drugs for every 100,000 people living in the state.

It’s essential to look at the data from the perspective of per capita drug deaths, as we showed above. But it’s equally important to also look at the total number of deaths for each state. For example, while West Virginia lost 57.8 people per 100,000 residents to drug overdoses compared to Ohio losing 46.3 people per 100,000 residents, Ohio experiences far more deaths than West Virginia does, simply because Ohio has a much larger population. Here is how overdose deaths pan out when we examine the total number of drug deaths per state for West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky:

  • In West Virginia, 974 people died from drug overdoses in 2017.
  • In 2017, a total of 5,111 people died from drug overdoses in Ohio.
  • In Pennsylvania, in that same year, 5,388 people died from overdoses.
  • In the same year, 1,566 people died from drug overdoses in Kentucky.

Pennsylvania had slightly more overdose deaths than Ohio, but Pennsylvania has well over two million more residents living there than Ohio does.

There are other ways of looking at this problem, but all angles of view reveal a grim picture. For example, the data cited so far deals with all types of drug overdose deaths combined. But what if we look at just opiate overdose fatalities alone? Here again, we see a particularly vicious crisis in Ohio, far worse than in all other states when we look at the sheer numbers, even worse than in Pennsylvania. And for per capita, Ohio ranks second in the country for opioid-involved overdose deaths per 100,000 people (second again to West Virginia).

But here’s what’s really shocking. Ohio has the highest total number of opiate overdose deaths in the entire nation, even though it is only the 7th largest state by population.

Let’s take a closer look at that. In Ohio, in 2017, 4,293 people died from opiate overdoses. In California, a state with more than triple the population of Ohio, 2,199 people died from opiates in that same year. Almost double the deaths in Ohio than in California, yet California has more than triple Ohio’s population. And even though West Virginia loses more people per capita to opiate overdoses than Ohio does, West Virginia's total opiate death toll comes in at 833 deaths in 2017, less than 25 percent of Ohio’s overall death toll.

And last but not least, much of Ohio’s addiction struggle and subsequent death toll comes from a very particular crisis, namely an increase in synthetic opioid deaths (predominantly fentanyl deaths). In 2012, 139 deaths involved synthetic opioids. In 2017, 3,523 people died from synthetic opioids, an almost twenty-fivefold increase in just five years.

How the Problem Came About

The Ohio Department of Health indicated that 2007 was the first year when unintentional drug poisoning (overdoses) became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio. That means more people are dying (and have been dying) in Ohio from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. That resource also cites fentanyl as being the major contributor, showing that fentanyl was present in a majority of cocaine deaths, psycho-stimulant/methamphetamine deaths, and heroin deaths.

Ohio overprescribing epidemic

Much of Ohio’s drug problem resulted from increased prescribing of prescription drugs back in the early-2000s. By 2010, opiate prescribing in Ohio had hit a peak of 102.4 opioid prescriptions written for every 100 persons. That means more opiate prescriptions were written in that year than the total number of people living in the state! As more prescriptions for addictive pain meds were doled out, more people became hooked on the meds. When prescribing began to recede in the years following 2010, illicit fentanyl (produced in clandestine drug labs) and heroin came into the state. Addicts traded one opiate for another, and the problem worsened considerably.

Residential Treatment as the Life-Saving Solution to Drug Addiction

Ohio has done much to tackle their drug problem. Health programs are working to prevent overdoses by implementing state-wide use of naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. Law enforcement offices are cracking down on drug trafficking and clandestine production of drugs. Prescribers are limiting how many opiate prescriptions they write each year, showing an effort to better follow CDC prescribing guidelines.

All of that is helpful, and Ohio did experience a reduction in drug overdose deaths in 2018.

However, there are still tens of thousands of Ohioans who are addicted to drugs. Those addictions will not simply disappear just because overdose reversal drugs are more readily available or because doctors are prescribing opiates less or because police are cracking down on clandestine drug activities.

The only thing that can reliably help someone overcome drug addiction is safe and effective residential drug treatment.

Narconon graduate

Narconon offers a unique and groundbreaking rehabilitation program. At Narconon, addicts are not addicts for life, and anyone can experience a completely drug-free life. Addiction is not an incurable disease. People can get better, and thousands have done just that thanks to the Narconon program.

Ohio’s drug problem is perilous, in fact, it is life-threatening for the thousands of Ohioans who are addicted. If your loved one is struggling with an addiction, Narconon can offer the way out. Perhaps your loved one has been to treatment before, and it didn’t work for them. Or maybe they simply do not want to seek help. Narconon has helped tens of thousands of people who were thought to be lost to society, seeming to be totally shut off from the possibility of a drug-free life. Don’t let your loved one continue to ruin his or her life with drug use. Please call today, and Narconon can help you save your loved one’s life.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.