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Fentanyl to blame for spike in OD deaths

Zoe Greszler • May 11, 2018 at 10:00 PM

Huron County had a rough year in 2017 when it came drug-related deaths.

County coroner Jeff Harwood said he’s “excited” to get the year behind him.

“Typically we average about 45 to 65 cases a year,” he said. “We had 72. It was a big year. A lot of that was because of overdoses.”

The coroner’s report showed there were 28 deaths that resulted from overdose. Of note was that just one of those involved a person’s own prescription medication, Harwood said.

“There’s a lot of stuff being written out there about prescriptions,” he said. “Narcotic prescriptions are down but overdoses are increasing. People aren’t overdosing on prescriptions. The real spike is coming from fentanyl.”

Harwood, who’s been the county’s coroner for 22 years, said and his counterparts in surrounding counties began noticing this trend in 2003.

“Coroners are the first ones to see what’s happening and then it shows up in statistics, but those statistics are usually a couple of years behind. I think back to 2003, and the coroners, we were all saying, ‘Are you seeing what I’m seeing — all these people dying from overdoses? What’s going on?’ It takes a while for those numbers to show up, though.

“In 2003 and then all of a sudden in 2006, you can see there was this huge jump too,” he said. “Again in ‘13 there was a high jump. This was primarily due to fentanyl and carfentanil and its analogs. I remember the first appearance of carfentanil and other analogs was Labor Day weekend 2016, then it spiked in 2017 in the summer and fall. It was a little more consistent as we ended the year.”

Of the OD deaths, Harwood said they are “generally mixtures of different agents.” Fentanyl was involved in six of the deaths, carfentanil in eight and another 11 of the deaths involved some other fentanyl analog.

Also suspect in the deaths were heroin (six), other opioids (eight), cocaine (five), benzodiazepines (four), alcohol (three), diphenhydramine (three) and amphetamines (two).

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen in 2018,” Harwood said. “Yes, the national stats are still increasing, but maybe that could be from years of delay in the statistics.

“I noticed this winter, a couple months ago, that 2018 was pretty slow,” he added. “But then I remembered there wasn’t as much going on in the winter of ‘17 either, then everything happened in spring. So, I don’t have an idea for 18.”

While local law enforcement officials said they still see fentanyl cases, they’re also are seeing another drug gaining popularity — methamphetamine.

“Detectives told me just about everything they bought on the streets in 2017 was a fentanyl analog,” he said.

“They told me, though, they’re starting to see more methamphetamine. I don’t run across as much meth. It doesn’t kill you outright. It leads to a lot of physical and social problems, but I’m still seeing narcotic-related deaths.”

 

It was a busy year in suicides’

The number of suicides also increase, though Harwood said this might not be of unusual concern.

Huron County saw 10 individuals take their own lives in 2017, up from six the year before. 

“It was a busy year in suicides for our county,” he said.

“It’s a small number, so a few more cases makes a bigger impact, but if you average it out, in time it evens itself out. We average about six a year. There might be five and there might be eight one year. I don’t think there’s a trend there. Ten instead of 6, that’s a 66 percent increase. But that’s just one year and doesn’t take much to skew a number like six. Next year there might be less.”

Most of the local suicides are propelled by problems at home, Harwood said.

“A lot of them are domestic related,” he said. “It’s either marriage problems, family or financially related.”

The county also saw five highway deaths, which was par the course, and one homicide this past year.

“We only average one homicide every two to three years,” Harwood said. “Our neighbors are not as fortunate. They’re a little more busy. We’re fortunate that way. Probably my whole time (as coroner) it’s been that way, just every two to three years.”

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