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Do You Live in an Addiction Treatment Desert?

addiction treatment desert

Do You Live in an Addiction Treatment Desert?

How far is the closest rehab? Is it more than a mile? Three miles? Five? If so, you may live in an addiction treatment desert. And your chances of getting sober — and staying sober — are much less than average. Much much less.

So goes a recent study conducted by the good folks at The Ohio State University. The study, which was led by Ohio State College of Public Health assistant professor Dr. Ayaz Hyder and published in the medical journal PLOS ONE, concentrated on Ohio’s Franklin County. We got the news via Max Filby at The Columbus Dispatch.

Research has shown the likelihood of someone staying in treatment drops by up to 50% when a treatment provider is more than a mile away, writes Filby. In other words, when they live in an addiction treatment desert.

To be fair, researchers are pretty strict about just what constitutes an addiction treatment desert. A treatment provider can’t be more than a mile from a person’s home. Furthermore, it must be reachable within two-minutes by car or less than 30 minutes via public transportation.

“The main message is that opioid treatment deserts exist in Franklin County,” said Dr. Hyder. “They are spread out; they’re not concentrated in one specific area … they are everywhere.”

We agree. Addiction treatment deserts are everywhere. Especially by those standards. We also agree that more providers are needed. Many more. And yes, it would be terrific if those new providers would “set-up shop” in these so-called deserts. We’re just not sure why there’s such a rigorous definition of desert. After all, it’s not as if Ohio has experienced desertification.

In fact, quite the contrary. Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Eric Wandersleben told Filby the number of opiate treatment providers in the state has gone from 24 to 89 over the last four years. The spokesman also said “recent federal changes are expected to further increase providers in the future.”


Oasis in the Addiction Treatment Desert

It’s clear that Dr. Hyder’s desert stratagem is to see an increase in oases throughout the state he calls home. And hey, if strict parameters will realize an extra oasis or three, who are we to argue? Especially considering Ohio’s fatal overdose rate.

Yes, Ohio still seems to be second to West Virginia in overdose deaths. (Though some reports put the state at #1 and others drop it to #4, after New Hampshire and Maryland.) Numbers were already high and rising before Covid struck; since then they’ve become atrocious. In fact, a recent report in JAMA that used publicly available data from the Ohio Department of Health, found fatal drug overdoses went from an average of 85 a week before the pandemic, to 145 a week after the National Emergency was declared. That’s a 70.06% increase.

There may be an even worse stat though. During the first week of May, Ohio’s 2020 overdose death count topped 5000. A new annual record. Even worse, officials are still counting. By the time the Ohio Department of Health finalizes last year’s mortality data in September, the number will likely be about 5,100.

In Franklin County, Ohio’s most populous, the current 2020 death toll is 797. It’s expected to easily exceed 800 before the death files are closed.

So yeah, when research finds that folks without opioid addiction treatment near home are less likely to maintain sobriety, by all means, let’s get ’em a rehab. After all, if a chicken in every pot can keep a party in office, perhaps an oasis in every desert might just keep people from dying.

Gratitude and Other Positives


Another plus is coming from Dr. Hyder’s research — more naloxone. And the overdose-reversing drug will be going right where it’s most needed too.

Yep, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has taken note of the new research. And last week the department said it would flood the most impacted ZIP codes with 60,000 doses of naloxone. The doses will be going to the 23 counties that have demonstrated the highest need. And the allocation is based upon overdose deaths and overdose-related emergency department visit data garnered from the Ohio Department of Health.

Healing Properties wholeheartedly thanks Dr. Ayaz Hyder and The Ohio State University for identifying the addiction treatment deserts. It’s a cinch that studies like this will see to more seeding. And if the U.S. is ever going to experience a downturn in addiction and death, we’ve most definitely got to grow more rehabs and sober homes.

We’ve also got to keep funding — and considering — these kinds of studies. It’s only through knowing that we’ll solve such problems, and only through rigorous study that we’ll get to knowing. Take for example the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ naloxone immersion plan. It’s an plan that is sure to save lives. It’s also one that may not have come about were it not for this study. So for that we offer a special salute to both University and Department.

How ’bout you? Are you living in an addiction treatment desert? Are you seeking help? It’s out there, you know. More and more. If you’ll give us a ring, we’ll let you know right where to go.

(Image by Joachim Hillsund from Pixabay)

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