COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Aug. 31 is Overdose Awareness Day across the country and in Ohio. The day is to help honor and remember loved ones lost to drug overdoses, but also to educate and raise awareness.

Lori Criss is the Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and she said the state is still seeing record numbers of overdoses.

“About 14 people die every day in Ohio from an unintentional drug overdose,” Criss said.

Criss said it was in 2020 and 2021, that accidental drug overdose deaths first climbed to record numbers, at more than 5,000 Ohioans dying from one each year.

“These are people who might be taking a substance thinking it’s pretty benign and being accidentally poisoned by this highly potent, deadly drug fentanyl,” Criss said.

Criss said fentanyl, an opioid, has increasingly become part of the drug supply in Ohio.

She said even with high numbers of overdoses, thousands of lives have been saved this past year thanks to the free distribution of a life-saving drug called naloxone. The state has distributed more than 250,000 doses of naloxone in the past year.

“We’ve saved over 18,000 lives in Ohio with this reversal drug,” Criss said. “It is very lifesaving. Knowing that we lost 5,000 people is certainly a heartache, but knowing we’ve saved over 18,000 is certainly something we are encouraged by.”

The reversal drug is available for free in Ohio. Naloxone can be requested here and will be mailed in a week or less.

“Any one of us could use naloxone or have it available or use just like we know first aid, CPR, for any other medical crisis that we might come upon,” Criss said.

Fentanyl test strips are also available to Ohioans; those can requested at local pharmacies. When requesting either the strips or naloxone, red flags will not be raised to law enforcement.

“Ohio law allows for all of these things to be considered healthcare devices, and so it’s a great opportunity for people to recognize addiction is a disease, this is a healthcare response,” Criss said. “And there’s not public safety or criminal justice concern with having naloxone or fentanyl test strips.”

Criss said today should be a reminder to talk to friends and family who may be struggling with addiction.

“Having conversations about addiction, having conversations about overdose can help us prevent deaths and save lives,” Criss said.

If you or someone you know is struggling from drug addiction, here are some resources:

Text the free, 24/7, confidential crisis line: text ‘4hope’ to 741 741. You can also ask to be connected to a Spanish-speaking counselor. More details about how this line works can be found here.

Call or text the 24/7 suicide and crisis lifeline: dial 988 to connect with a trained counselor who can help you find the best next step for you. More details about how this line works can be found here.