States across the U.S. are seeing increased behavioral health needs and rising drug use as Americans struggle with the mental-health impact of social isolation, financial struggles, and other anxieties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest behavioral health stories out of Ohio show how this state has been affected, and how it is responding.
Ohio Seeing Increase in Drug Overdose Fatalities
In May 2020, 548 Ohioans died of drug overdoses, the most in a single month in at least 14 years. Preliminary figures from the Ohio Department of Health suggest that overdose deaths in June and July also set monthly record highs of 481 and 442 fatalities, respectively.
Harm Reduction Ohio, a Granville-based nonprofit agency that is reportedly the state’s largest naloxone distributor, released the findings. The group reports that the increased deaths were 20-percent higher in the first six months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Most of the deaths occurred in rural counties, often in poorer regions of the state, including southern and southeastern Ohio.
Ohio Governor Announces $74 Million to Fight Opioids
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Recovery Ohio Director Alisha Nelson, and Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) Director Lori Criss recently announced that $76,534,000 in grants will go to new strategic efforts against drug addiction. The grants are a part of Ohio’s share of $96 million in federal State Opioid Response (SOR) 2.0 funding.
Ohio’s SOR 2.0 project aims to boost the treatment and recovery services available to state residents. Grants will support projects such as opioid treatment programs for new or expecting mothers, recovery housing, and expanded access to naloxone.
New Service in Ohio Matches Patients With Psychiatric Beds
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is gradually launching a new online psychiatric bed registry meant to match behavioral health patients to inpatient psychiatric facilities with available beds. This tool, called Behavioral Health Connection or B-Con, is meant to be used by emergency departments, psychiatrists, and other providers.
This tool provides two-way communication, data analytics, and decision-support resources, and is meant to get patients with behavioral health needs to the appropriate services faster. The number of state hospital beds throughout the country has fallen since 1955, but there is still a high number of emergency room visits for mental health-related issues.
“We believe this registry will improve patient care, ease overcrowding in emergency rooms, and expedite the process of connecting patients with psychiatric hospitals and hospital psychiatric units,” said Dr. Justin Trevino, OhioMHAS Medical Director.
House, Senate Pass Healthcare Parity Bill
The Ohio Senate and House of Representatives have passed amendments to Senate Bill 284 that now include Senate Bill 254, which would prohibit insurers from covering mental illnesses in a more restrictive way than physical illnesses. Senate Bill 254 is a bipartisan effort sponsored by State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), and State Sen. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta).
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