AUBURN – Most of the five counties that make up the Southeast District Health Department fall in the mid-range of the state’s overall health rankings, but director Kevin Cluskey said opioid overdose provides cause for concern.
The health department divides the state into 19 districts, and the southeast is among the top five in opioid overdose deaths since 2007.
Nebraska is not typically counted among states struck by an opioid epidemic that has produced statistics like 15 deaths per 100,000 people in New Mexico and 35 dead per 100,000 in West Virginia.
Still, Cluskey said, the rural district’s ranking among the state’s population centers at North Platte, Scottsbluff, Lincoln and Omaha, is dubious recognition.
Cluskey: “Just going in and preventing overdose deaths, you know, isn’t enough. We need to look at what the actual root cause is from these happening in the first place.
So, why are people starting to get addicted to opiods? Where does it all start? Really that’s one of the areas we want to impact and that’s where we go back to our key message of prevention.”
He said the health district is looking at partnering with county attorneys and coroners to provide funding for toxicology reports, when drug overdose is the suspected cause of death.
He said a toxicology autopsy is expensive, but, without it, officials are often left to speculate about the use of heroine, fentanyl or prescription medicines.
Officials are also working to bring Medsafe medicine disposal boxes to each county in the district.
Cluskey presented the Nemaha County Board with health care rankings.
In health factors, which include diet, smoking, obesity and health care available, Pawnee County is ranked best at 37th. Ranked in order of positive health factors are Nemaha, Otoe, Johnson and Richardson counties.
In terms of health outcomes — a measure of long, healthy lives — Otoe County is ranked highest at 30th. The other counties are ranked in order, Johnson, Pawnee, Nemaha and Richardson.
Cluskey said the rankings help counties gauge success in efforts to prevent ailments such as diabetes and heart disease.
Cluskey: “It doesn’t necessarily look at the quality of the health care provided. It looks at how we utilize it. How often are we going in for regular, routine screenings? How often are we going in for mammograms? How often are we going in to do that? That’s where we have to do a better job of promoting the services that our physicians and providers service in the community.”
He said when people make regular check-ups and get health screenings, the county ranking improves.