Summit County residents continue to overdose at lower rates than months ago

As Christmas approached, the number of Summit County residents seeking hospital help for overdoses continued a recent decline.

Hospital emergency rooms reported treating 28 people for overdoses Dec. 15-21.

That’s about half the overdoses reported here during weekly periods just months ago.

It’s a welcome trend, but it’s unclear what’s driving the decline and whether it will continue.

Summit County Public Health officials began tracking the hospital-reported numbers after they soared over a long July Fourth weekend last year.

In 2015 and the first half of 2016, two or three county residents per day sought hospital help after overdosing.

With the arrival last year of carfentanil — a cheap, synthetic opioid often imported from China and mixed with heroin — overdose rates soared to about 19 per day. At the same, overdose deaths spiked, too.

After a few months, Summit County overdose cases subsided at hospitals, but never returned to a longstanding average of two or three a day.

And since then, naloxone — the generic, inhaled drug used to revive people who overdose — has become widely available over the counter.

How many people who overdose at home and are revived by friends and relatives without seeking ER help is not known.

Almost all police and first responders in Greater Akron carry naloxone with them to help residents — or other officers or police K9s who sometimes accidentally come into contact with synthetic opiates.

But the Associated Press reported this week that some Ohio law enforcement remain divided about officers and sheriff’s deputies carrying naloxone.

Some police officials cite lack of resources for obtaining, maintaining and tracking supplies and for training in when and how to use naloxone.

They worry about taking on new duties they say are better suited for medical workers, divert them from fighting crime and can put them in danger.

They get support from some citizens weary of people who overdose repeatedly.

Butler Sheriff Richard Jones, whose county includes growing northern Cincinnati suburbs, older industrial cities and rural areas, is among those who oppose law enforcement carrying naloxone.

Jones’ brother died young because of alcohol and drugs, he said, and he recounts cradling infants twitching from the effects of their mothers’ drug use.

But people using drugs make choices, he said. “Knowing that they can die from it, but they still do it.”

And, Jones said, people who overdose can be combative when they revive.

An officer bent over giving naloxone could get “a brick to the head,” he said.

“It’s not what we’re supposed to do,” said Jones, known for blunt talk on such issues as illegal immigration and Donald Trump’s GOP presidential campaign. “We won’t do it. Period.”