The number of fatal drug overdoses in Ohio declined for the first time since 2009, according to state health officials, a milestone in the state's ongoing battle with the deadly opioid epidemic.
Preliminary figures from the Ohio Department of Health show the number of overdoses dropped more than 22% last year. According to separate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio's decrease was more than four times the national decline of 5%.
Dr. Mark Hurst, the Health Department's medical director, told the Columbus Dispatch that he's encouraged by the reduction, but added that the department's "work is far from over."
Beginning in 2007, fatal drug overdoses topped car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the state, signaling the impact of powerfully addictive painkillers, and later heroin and fentanyl, on public health in Ohio.
Over the years, officials have worked to tighten prescribing rules to lessen the use of prescription painkillers while fighting an influx of heroin and fentanyl, a far more powerful, and deadly, synthetic painkiller.
State data showed that most of Ohio's six largest urban areas had double-digit declines. Overdoses fell 47% in Montgomery County and 46% in Summit County.
Because of Montgomery County's steep drop, Dayton was featured by the Center for American Progress. Dayton's progress is remarkable, according to Ed Chung, vice president for the Center for American Progress' center's criminal justice reform effort.
"Dayton has shown that the opioid crisis is not hopeless and that there are actionable steps that cities can take to reduce deaths and help people along the path to recovery," Chung said.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city's success is due to needle exchanges and the wide usage of naloxone, a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose.
The Dispatch reported that Franklin County, home to Columbus, is an outlier of the trend, with a 10% increase in drug-related deaths in 2018.
The leading cause of drug deaths in Franklin County and across Ohio is fentanyl, which accounted for 73% of fatal overdoses in 2018.
Final overdose figures for the state, which aren't expected to vary much, should be released within a few weeks.