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December 2021

ODH Director warns that COVID cases in Ohio are ‘very serious situation’

State health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff again pleaded with Ohioans to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as cases and hospitalizations spike across the country (Source: “Ohio facing 'very serious situation' as COVID cases skyrocket, state's top doctor says,” Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 16).

According to the state COVID-19 dashboard, Ohio has reported more than 10,000 cases per day for the past three days. On Friday, Ohio also reported 395 new hospitalizations and 434 deaths.

The increase in cases has pushed hospitalizations near record-highs with 4,723 Ohioans with COVID hospitalized as of Thursday, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.

The 1,177 COVID-positive patients in Ohio's intensive care units are also approaching a pandemic record high, Vanderhoff said. Around 22% of COVID patients in an ICU are under the age of 50 and 13% are under the age of 40, Vanderhoff said.

"Simply put we're in a very serious situation but we have a powerful tool in vaccination that can strengthen our protection against severe cases of COVID-19," he said.

Ohio Senate passes bill expanding medical cannabis

The Ohio Senate passed a bill this week that would expand medical cannabis conditions to migraines, autism spectrum disorder, opioid use disorder and any condition that could “reasonably be expected to be relieved” from the drug (Source: “Ohio Senate passes bill expanding medical marijuana to any patient whose symptoms ‘may reasonably be expected to be relieved’ by drug,”, Dec. 15).

Senate Bill 261 passed 26 to 5. It now heads to the Ohio House.

In addition to broadly expanding medical conditions, the bill would change other aspects of the Ohio medical marijuana program. The bill would expand the forms of medical marijuana that can be legally sold to include pills, capsules and suppositories, oral pouches, oral strips, oral or topical sprays, salves and inhalers. Smoking marijuana would still be prohibited but vaping would continue to be allowed.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio recently released a brief, Alcohol, Tobacco and Health: Implications for Future Cannabis Policy, that lays the groundwork for future cannabis policy discussions by applying lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol policy to upcoming decisions about recreational cannabis legalization.

White House unveils plans to remove lead pipes, paint

The Biden administration released a new plan this week for removing the country’s lead water pipes (Source: “Biden administration releases plan for tackling lead pipes,” The Hill, Dec. 16). 

The plan, announced Thursday in a fact sheet, notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will “begin to develop” new regulations for lead and copper pipes. 

Exposure to lead can have negative health effects, especially in children, for whom it can cause brain and nervous system damage and slowed growth and development. 

The Biden administration’s plans would also distribute about $3 billion in funds from the bipartisan infrastructure law for lead service line replacement next year, and said it would be “calling on states to prioritize underserved communities.”

The EPA and Labor Department will also create regional technical assistance hubs that seek to “fast track” the removal process. Meanwhile, the Housing and Urban Development Department will distribute grants to remove lead paint and other hazards in low-income communities. 

Application deadline next week for HPIO policy analyst position

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio is seeking applicants for a full-time health policy analyst position. The deadline for applications is Dec. 23, 2021.

The position will be part of a collaborative team focused on advancing evidence-informed policies that improve health, achieve equity, and lead to sustainable healthcare spending in Ohio.

HPIO will consider candidates for either a health policy analyst or senior analyst position. Information about specific responsibilities and qualifications for both positions, as well as how to apply, are posted on HPIO’s website.

HPIO fact sheet outlines actions private sector can take to address racism


The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a new fact sheet as a companion to its Connections between Racism and Health brief.

The fact sheet, the second in a series of three, outlines actions private sector partners can take to support the health and well-being of Ohioans of color and move Ohio toward a more economically vibrant and healthy future. The first fact sheet provided action steps for state and local policymakers.

“Ohioans of color, in particular, continue to face barriers to good health and well-being that are rooted in racism and centuries of unjust practices,” the fact sheet states. “However, improvement is possible and there are many actions private sector organizations can take to support the health of every Ohioan.”

Last year HPIO released a data brief, "Connections between Racism and Health: Taking Action to Eliminate Racism and Advance Equity" and an accompanying resource page to support state and local efforts to eliminate racism.

Fewer people identify health disparities as a problem, new study finds

The number of people who think health disparities and inequities are a problem has waned since 2020, according to new research (Source: “Fewer People Recognize Health Disparities, Inequities as a Problem,” Patient Engagement HIT, Dec. 9).

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and RAND Corporation researchers saw a significant decline in the number of people recognizing health disparities between July 2020 and September 2021. In July 2020, 61.1% of U.S. adults agreed that people of color faced a disproportionate health impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, and 57.5% agreed people of color faced more of a financial impact than their white peers.

By September 2021, however, those numbers had shrunk. Only 52.7% of adults agreed populations of color saw a stronger health impact from the pandemic, and 50.3% agreed populations of color saw a bigger financial impact.

The survey showed that fewer people recognize the link between systemic racism and health outcomes. For example, the researchers reported a 3% decline in the number of people who agree poor health outcomes are related to systemic racism; only about 40% of respondents in September 2021 said they agreed health outcomes could be linked to systemic racism.

Study: Racial disparities exist in every state in U.S.

Racial and ethnic health inequities are pervasive in every state in the U.S., according to a new analysis that found some of the widest disparities occur within states known for having high performing health care systems (Source: “States Have Large Racial Disparities in Health Care Equity, Study Finds,” U.S. News, Nov. 18).

A new report from the Commonwealth Fund assessed the performance of the health system in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on health care access, quality of care and health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority residents.

The report evaluated state health system performance for Black, white and American Indian/Alaskan Native residents, as well as for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Latino populations.

Only six states had health systems that scored above the national average for all racial and ethnic groups studied – Oregon, Rhode Island,  Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. Yet large disparities were also found in those states, where health system performance for white residents was scored the best of any group except in Massachusetts, where it was slightly higher among Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents.

The overall health of Black Ohioans ranked 22nd out of 38, Latino Ohioans ranked 16th out of 42, Asian Ohioans ranked 19th out of 23 and white Ohioans ranked 34th out of 51 states and D.C.

Answers sought for rise in suicide attempts among Black teens

Legislators and academics are pushing for better research to understand why self-reported suicide attempts have dramatically risen among Black adolescents over the past three decades (Source: “Why Are More Black Kids Suicidal? A Search for Answers.,” New York Times, Nov. 18).

A study published this summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that self-reported suicide attempts rose nearly 80% among Black adolescents from 1991 to 2019, while the prevalence of attempts did not change significantly among those of other races and ethnicities.

One study of high school students, published in September, found that the Black teenagers surveyed were more likely than the white teenagers to have attempted suicide without first having suicidal thoughts or plans. Because suicide screening questionnaires typically ask whether people are having suicidal thoughts or have made plans to hurt themselves, the authors speculated that the questionnaires might fail to identify some Black youths who are at risk of suicide, or that there could be additional factors that might indicate a need for intervention.

More research is needed, but a government study conducted last year suggested that Black children and adolescents who died by suicide were more likely than white youths to have experienced a crisis in the two weeks before they died. They were also more likely to have had a family relationship problem, argument or conflict, or a history of suicide attempts.

HPIO policy brief series explores tobacco, alcohol and implications for future cannabis policy


The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a series of briefs that explore the health impacts of tobacco and excessive alcohol use, and apply lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol policy to upcoming decisions about recreational cannabis legalization.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Health: Implications for Future Cannabis Policy lays the groundwork for future cannabis policy discussions by:

  • Highlighting what works to reduce tobacco and excessive alcohol use
  • Describing recent and upcoming tobacco, alcohol and cannabis policy changes
  • Applying lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol to inform equitable and effective cannabis regulation in the future

“Now is the time to set clear policy goals on legal drugs. Evidence-based approaches to cannabis, tobacco and alcohol policy are needed to improve health, decrease disparities and control healthcare spending,” the brief states.

The two other briefs in the series, Health Impacts of Tobacco Use in Ohio and Health Impacts of Excessive Alcohol Use in Ohio explore:

  • How each substance affects health and healthcare spending
  • Recent trends and disparities
  • What works to reduce harms

CDC: Ohio OD deaths increased 26% in 2020

New federal data shows that drug overdose deaths in Ohio increased more than 25% this past year (Source: “Ohio sees 26% increase in fatal drug overdoses,” Ohio Capital Journal, Nov. 30, 2021).

The latest overdose data released last week by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that Ohio went from 4,410 drug overdose deaths last year to 5,585 this year, an increase of 26.6%. The United States has broken the six-figure overdose number, roughly doubling the 49,387 national drug overdose deaths in 2015 to 100,306 in 2021.

While Ohio is close to the national numbers in terms of drug overdose increases, the state is going against the grain in one major area. The CDC reported in March of this year that urban and suburban counties were growing in ODs per capita much than rural counties are. But in Ohio, the per capita OD numbers in smaller counties like Scioto, Columbiana, Adams, Lawrence, and Gallia are much bigger than the big counties like Cuyahoga (Cleveland), Summit (Akron), Stark (Canton), and Hamilton (Cincinnati). Larger suburban counties (Lake, Geauga, Clermont, Delaware) are also much lower than the smaller, more rural counties.

In October, 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.