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Ohio drug overdose deaths top 5,000 in 2020

Drug overdoses killed more Ohioans in 2020 than in at least the previous 14 years, a grim milestone likely made possible by the pandemic (Source: “'Every death is a heartache:' More than 5,000 Ohioans died of a drug overdose in 2020,” Columbus Dispatch, May 7).

At least 5,001 Ohioans died of overdoses last year, according to a Columbus Dispatch analysis of mortality data from the Ohio Department of Health as of Tuesday.  The total number of overdose deaths in 2020 is likely to increase since county coroners have six months to investigate, meaning 2020 overdose deaths could climb further.

The COVID-19 pandemic undeniably contributed to the rise of overdoses in 2020, said Lori Criss, Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The pandemic changed life as Ohioans knew it, forcing many into isolation to stop the spread of the virus. In difficult times, it's more common for people to turn to drugs, or for those in recovery to relapse, Criss said.

Lockdowns across the world also led to one drug flooding the market: fentanyl. Fentanyl was readily available, is easy to transport and is often discreetly hidden in mail. Fentanyl was a factor in 81% of 2020 overdose deaths, Criss said.