Drug overdose rate among women skyrockets

The rate of Ohio women dying from a drug overdose has skyrocketed by more than 440 percent in the past 14 years.

State and federal lawmakers, as well as regional hospitals and treatment facilities, continue to move more resources toward not only the treatment of drug addiction, but also developing an approach to treat the whole person and the root causes of their addictions.

In 2012 in Ohio, just less than 680 women died from an unintentional drug overdose. That rate is 448 percent higher than in 2000 when 124 women died of an overdose, according to Ohio Department of Health.

The rate of drug overdoses in Ohio men has also quadrupled since 2000 — from 287 men in 2000 to more than 1,220 in 2012.

A large contributor to those overdose rates is the presence of heroin and other opiates in communities across Ohio, officials say.

“Americans all across the country have been affected by the growing public health crisis caused by opioid use,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “We’ve got a problem when it’s easier for Americans to get heroin than it is for them to get help to break their addiction.”

The number of people being treated for opioid abuse or dependence has jumped 163 percent in recent years — from 9,275 in 2004 to 24,393 in 2011, according to the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (ODMHAS).

Brown is one of several U.S. legislators to support proposed legislation called The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment (TREAT) Act, introduced in July by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), that would authorize more health care providers to treat larger numbers of patients struggling with addiction.

Of the 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids in 2012, less than than 40 percent received medication-assisted treatment, Brown said last week during a conference call with reporters.

As proposed, TREAT Act would increase the number of patients a provider is initially allowed to treat, from 30 patients to 100 patients per year, during their first year of certification. The law would also allow physicians — depending on their level of training — to treat more than 100 patients per year. The law would also for the first time allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat addicted patients.

Also shining a light on the drug-addiction crisis in Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was one of four U.S. senators to host a forum on women and addiction last month in Washington, D.C.

The forum, held July 22, featured nationally-recognized researchers, practitioners and policymakers to help identify policy priorities to help women in treatment for drug abuse and addiction with the goal of maintaining long-term recovery.

Portman said about 18 American women die each day from a drug overdose.

“We’ve also got an issue with many of our states and communities where women are not coming forward,” Portman said. “There’s sort of a stigma attached with substance abuse and addiction that we need to overcome to get people into treatment and into recovery.”

In attendance at that July forum was Margo Spence, president and chief executive officer at First Step Home in Cincinnati, a residential and outpatient treatment program for women dealing with addiction and co-occurring mental health and trauma-related issues.

First Step Home is one of four locations in Ohio for a three-year pilot called the Maternal Opiate Medical Support (MOMS) initiative. The agency received $299,000 from Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Office of Health Transformation to launch the program this past March.

So far about 40 pregnant and addicted women have entered the program, said Terry Schoenling, vice president and project director at First Step Home.

Ohio’s other pilot locations are in Athens, Franklin and Cuyahoga counties. The goal is to serve 300 women during the course of the pilot and to reduce infant hospital stays by 30 percent.

Treating newborns impacted by Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) — caused by exposure to narcotics — was associated with more than $70 million in health care expenses and nearly 19,000 days in Ohio’s hospitals in 2011, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. NAS commonly results in respiratory complications, feeding difficulties, seizures and low birth weights.

Schoenling said the MOMS initiative complements the agency’s existing Maternal Addictions Program that was developed in 2011 in response to the growing number of pregnant women needing addiction services.

“They are not easy women to deal with in treatment; they have physical needs, gestational needs, all kinds of needs going on that act as barriers to their successful treatment,” Schoenling said.

Along with the increased demand for addiction services, Schoenling said the average age of women needing help continues to drop.

“There’s some scary data that we’re getting which is concerning to us,” Schoenling said. “The trend is getting younger and younger. Their first contact with opiates is now an average age of 21 years versus 27 years not more than a year ago.”

Jamie Shipley, 28, of Cincinnati, a recovering opiate addict in the MOMS program, said her first two children were not born during active addiction, but her youngest child Kaylee, now four months, was born dependent.

Shipley said she was 16 weeks pregnant when she found out she was expecting a third child.

“I didn’t know what to do when I found out I was pregnant,” Shipley said. “I thought I was alone; I didn’t know all this help existed.”

In October 2013, Shipley was admitted to TriHealth’s Good Samaritan Hospital and enrolled in its HOPE Program for prenatal care. She’s been going through medically-assisted treatment using methadone.

Shipley said her addiction to opiates started three years ago when she started taking prescription pills. When that became too expensive, she moved to heroin. After six months of snorting the drug, she began taking it intravenously.

“I’d lost myself, my parenting skills, everything; it was just about me and my drugs,” Shipley said. “I knew I didn’t want to use; I knew I was done and knew I wanted a healthy pregnancy.”

Shipley said Kaylee started showing signs of withdrawal 48 hours after birth and subsequently spent a week in the neonatal intensive-care unit. Shipley said Kaylee is now doing well and hitting all her baby milestones.

Shipley said through the MOMS program she’s learned coping skills, how to live in balance, and breastfeeding and other diet and nutrition skills. She’s also benefited from smoking cessation and relapse-prevention techniques.

“My goal is to be a productive member of society and a healthy, nurturing mother to my children,” said Shipley, who starts a new job this week at Buckhead Mountain Grill through First Step Home’s vocational rehabilitation program.

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