Trumbull saddled with high overdose rate and unemployment

Out of Ohio’s 88 counties, Trumbull County has the highest unemployment rate and is ranked seventh for the number of accidental drug overdose deaths.

And at least one county official believes the two dismaying statistics are connected.

Trumbull County is the 14th most populous county in Ohio, but the rate at which its residents die by unintentional drug overdose surpasses larger counties, according to data from 2011 to 2016 compiled by the Ohio Department of Health in the 2016 Ohio Drug Overdose Report released in August.

For every 100,000 people, 34.2 died each year from accidental overdoses in Trumbull County, compared to a state average of 23.1 annual deaths per every 100,000 people, according to the report. The numbers are age adjusted.

The county’s unemployment rate is the highest in the state at 8.7 percent, nearly double the national average of 4.4 percent, and more than 5 percentage points higher than Mercer County’s 3.5 percent rate, the lowest in the state, according to data compiled and released in July by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Those estimates that are not seasonally adjusted.

Mercer County, on Ohio’s western border, also has an accidental drug overdose death rate lower than the state average at 10.2 per every 100,000 people.

“Communities with high unemployment rates also have high addiction rates,” said April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board. “We know they go hand in hand.”

Three of the five counties with the fewest drug overdose deaths also have unemployment rates closer to the national average than Trumbull County. Holmes, Paulding and Ashland counties have unemployment rates between 4 and 5.2 percent, and fewer than 20 accidental overdose deaths over the six-year period. But Noble and Monroe counties, which both had fewer than 10 accidental drug overdose deaths between 2011 and 2016, have unemployment rates closer to Trumbull County’s than the national average, at 6.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Adams County is much like Trumbull, with a high overdose rate of 37.2 and a high unemployment rate at 7.2 percent.

One of the biggest barriers to employment in Trumbull County is transportation, Caraway said.

“The No. 1 barrier in Trumbull County to getting to jobs is transportation. Increased bus services would help people stay in recovery through getting to treatment, 12-step groups, jobs and visits with their families,” Caraway said.

John Gargano, director of Trumbull County Job and Family Services, said the drug problem in the county isn’t only with the drugs that are most likely to kill users — opioids — but drugs in general.

“Drugs are a problem because many that go to potential employers to look for jobs in this area can’t pass the drug test. That means the person remains unemployed, and the employer remains focused on filling the position instead of other things the business could be doing that might lead to more economic growth in the area,” Gargano said.

William Turner, executive director of the Trumbull County Workforce Development Board, said Trumbull County’s high unemployment rate is influenced by many factors.

In his 38 years with the board, Turner said he has noticed drug use permeating more parts of society than it used to.

“It used to be a young person’s problem, something he would grow out of. But with the rise of opioid painkillers, we are seeing addiction bridge gender, race and age. It’s alarming. It is affecting the labor force in the Mahoning Valley, the state and the nation,” Turner said.

However, the effects may be amplified in Trumbull County because of the economic struggles the region has endured, Turner said.

“When things are good in the country, we see that, but it takes a lot longer for it to reach us. When things are bad, they hit us first and they hit us hard,” Turner said.

What the area really needs to see is the resurgence of companies that hire thousands and thousands of people at a time in order to combat the high unemployment rate, Turner said.

Small gains in local growth don’t last when a backslide comes, but larger gains are more robust, Turner said.

Living in an environment where jobs are available has a positive effect on someone trying to live with and treat an addiction, Caraway said.

“They have a sense of purpose and it helps them to show themselves and their families that they are contributing members of society,” she said.