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November 2021

New HPIO brief explores intersection between criminal justice, health and race

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a new brief titled, Connections between Criminal Justice and Health: Insights on Justice and Race.

According to the brief, “The two-way relationship between criminal justice and health is influenced by racism and other forms of discrimination, which can drive poor outcomes in both sectors.”

Building on HPIO's Connections between Criminal Justice and Health policy brief released in June, this brief highlights the many ways that racism impacts criminal justice outcomes, finding that:

  • Disparities in the criminal justice system are not inevitable, and although unjust biases, policies and structures exist, improvement is possible.
  • Ohioans of color experience barriers to justice stemming from a long history of racism in the criminal justice system that casts a shadow over modern policymaking.
  • Public and private stakeholders can take meaningful action to eliminate racism in the criminal justice system and improve health, safety and well-being for every Ohioan.

CDC: Record 100k overdose deaths in U.S. in past year

An estimated 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in one year, a never-before-seen milestone that health officials say is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic and a more dangerous drug supply (Source: “US overdose deaths topped 100,000 in one year, officials say,” Associated Press, Nov. 18).

Drawing from the latest available death certificate data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses from May 2020 to April 2021. It’s not an official count. It can take many months for death investigations involving drug fatalities to become final, so the agency made the estimate based on 98,000 reports it has received so far.

Experts believe the top drivers of overdose deaths are the growing prevalence of deadly fentanyl in the illicit drug supply and the COVID-19 pandemic, which left many drug users socially isolated and unable to get treatment or other support.

Drug overdoses jumped nearly 30% in the latest year and now surpass deaths from car crashes, guns and even flu and pneumonia. The total is close to that for diabetes, the nation’s No. 7 cause of death.

Last month, HPIO released a new fact sheet on Ohio policy options for reducing overdose deaths titled Refocusing Ohio’s Approach to Overdose Deaths. This fact sheet, which was released in conjunction with the HPIO policy brief, Taking Action to Strengthen Ohio’s Addiction Response, explores what drives overdose deaths in Ohio, why overdose deaths continue to increase and what state leaders can do to improve overdose prevention.

Ohio COVID cases, hospitalizations rising again, health officials warn

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in Ohio as vaccination rates lag behind other states – a dangerous combination with cold weather and holidays approaching, experts say (Source: “’This virus is not going away': COVID-19 cases in Ohio increase ahead of Thanksgiving,” Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 17).

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 12% of tests came back positive in the most recent week documented compared to a 7-day average of 9.5% earlier this month. The state also reported 6,382 new cases on Wednesday, the highest one-day total since early October. 

Health officials say Ohio is in better shape than it was a few months ago when cases and hospitalizations surged because of the highly contagious delta variant. Still, hospital leaders have seen an increase in COVID-19 patients this month and worry the numbers will hold steady as people begin to gather inside for the winter and celebrate holidays.

Meanwhile, roughly 52% of Ohioans are fully immunized against COVID-19. That places Ohio ahead of neighboring Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia but behind 34 other states, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Nearly 1 in 4 Ohioans has mental health issues, report finds

A new national report found that nearly 25% of Ohio adults are experiencing mental health issues (Source: “Mental health issues affect nearly 25% of Ohio adults,” Axios Columbus, Nov. 9).

According to nonprofit Mental Health America’s annual mental health rankings, Ohio slid from 11th to 25th in the nation, meaning the situation dramatically worsened year-over-year. In fact, Ohio had the third-worst decline in mental health rankings in the nation. The report measures the prevalence of issues as well as access to health care.

"We should be concerned that Ohio had one of the largest negative changes in overall ranking from year-to-year," Mental Health America of Ohio executive director Kenton Beachy said in a statement. "... we need to do much better in getting mental health services to youth with depressive disorder and reaching adults with serious thoughts of suicide.”

DeWine announces statewide campaign to combat addiction, mental illness stigma

Gov. Mike DeWine, along with health officials from across the state, announced a new campaign this week aiming to reduce the stigmas surrounding addiction and mental illness (Source: “Ohio launches statewide campaign to combat stigmas around addiction, mental illness,” WVXU radio, Nov. 10).

The "Beat The Stigma" campaign is the result of months of research and input from Ohio’s addiction and mental health experts. DeWine says addiction and mental health experts understand that these are diseases, not a moral failing or a result of weak character. He says the campaign attacks stigma directly.

In October, HPIO released a fact sheet titled “Refocusing Ohio’s Approach to Overdose Death” that found that drug overdose deaths in Ohio outpaced the national average over the past 20 years and stigma was a driver of those deaths.

State Medical Board extends COVID-19 telemed rules through March 2022

The State Medical Board of Ohio on Wednesday delayed the scheduled expiration of COVID-19 emergency rules that allow for more liberal use of telemedicine, meaning Ohioans will be able to continue using telemedicine through March 2022 for doctor visits that involve prescribing drugs or renewing medical marijuana cards (Source: “Ohio COVID-19 telemed rules for medical pot, drug prescriptions extended through March 2022,” Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 10).

The extension comes as state lawmakers debate a bill that would make the COVID-19 emergency telemedicine rules permanent. 

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took off, the medical board lifted a requirement that Ohioans must see a doctor in-person to prescribe a drug or renew medical marijuana cards. The in-person visit rule was set to expire Sept. 17 after Gov. Mike DeWine ended the COVID-19 emergency declaration. But health care organizations pushed to keep the flexibility since the virus was still circulating. The board delayed the expiration to the end of the year until Wednesday's move to extend it.

Ohio, other states sue Biden administration over vaccine mandates for workers

More than a dozen states, including Ohio, have filed legal challenges to the Biden administration’s recently announced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for workers (Source: “11 states sue the Biden administration over its vaccination mandate for large companies,” New York Times, Nov. 5).

The Biden administration on Thursday set Jan. 4 as the deadline for large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations or start weekly testing of their workers. The new rule, applying to companies with 100 or more employees, is expected to cover 84 million workers, roughly 31 million of whom are unvaccinated.

The attorneys general in 11 states filed a lawsuit on Friday in an effort to prevent the Biden administration from requiring large companies to mandate coronavirus vaccinations.

The lawsuit on Friday was filed in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit by Missouri and was joined by Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The office of Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat, also joined in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit came a day after the attorneys general of Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio sued to stop the vaccine mandate for federal contractors from going into effect.

Pfizer reports COVID-19 pill cuts hospitalization, deaths by 90%

Pfizer Inc. said Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90% in high-risk adults, as the drugmaker joined the race for an easy-to-use medication to treat the coronavirus (Source: “Pfizer says COVID-19 pill cut hospital, death risk by 90%,” Associated Press, Nov. 5).

Currently, most COVID-19 treatments require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to OK it.

Pfizer said it will ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months.

Cigarettes sales up last year for first time in two decades

For the first time in two decades, cigarette sales increased last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, as tobacco companies also beefed up spending to promote their products (Source: “Cigarette sales went up last year for the first time in 20 years,” National Public Radio, Oct. 27).

The Federal Trade Commission, in its annual Cigarette Report, said that manufacturers sold 203.7 billion cigarettes in 2020, up from 202.9 billion in 2019 — an increase of 0.4%.

The cigarette companies, the report said, increased advertising and promotion to $7.84 billion in 2020 from $7.624 billion the previous year, concentrating the bulk of their spending in "price discounts paid to cigarette retailers in order to reduce the price of cigarettes to customers," the FTC said.

HHS releases new overdose prevention plan

The federal Health and Human Services Department (HHS) unveiled last week a new drug overdose prevention plan, aiming to increase access to care among those with substance use disorders (Source: “HHS unveils drug overdose prevention plan to boost accessibility to care,” The Hill, Oct. 27).

The four-part HHS plan focuses on efforts to promote evidence-based prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery support among those struggling with drug overuse and their families.

The strategy comes as HHS released a report finding that more than 840,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. between 1999 and 2019, including about 93,000 last year during the COVID-19 pandemic when overdose fatalities rose. In the report, HHS labels confronting these overdose deaths as “a top priority” for the department.

Last month, HPIO released a new fact sheet on Ohio policy options for reducing overdose deaths titled Refocusing Ohio’s Approach to Overdose Deaths. This fact sheet, which was released in conjunction with the HPIO policy brief, Taking Action to Strengthen Ohio’s Addiction Response, explores what drives overdose deaths in Ohio, why overdose deaths continue to increase and what state leaders can do to improve overdose prevention.