By Ed Runyan
Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, Trumbull County coroner, says people often ask him whether overdose deaths are the result of a “bad batch” of heroin. He frequently has to explain that it’s actually the reverse.
“There’s no such thing as bad heroin, just better heroin or dumb people,” he said Thursday during a presentation to the Trumbull County Township Trustees Association.
What he means is that many of the overdose deaths he sees involve people who recently have gone through drug rehab or a jail stint, and their body has been “flushed clean of the drug.”
But what some addicts do is use the same amount of the drug that they used right before they were arrested or their rehab, and their body can’t handle it.
In other cases, someone uses heroin that is, for instance, 5 percent pure, but a new supplier in town gives them a dose that is 10 percent pure.
“I’ve just doubled my dosage,” Dr. Germaniuk said, speaking at Fowler United Methodist Church on Youngstown-Kingsville Road. And that can lead to a “spike” in deaths.
“One weekend about three weekends ago, I had four on a Saturday,” he said. “The youngest was 33, the oldest was 73.”
“Why are we seeing it in 50- and 60- and 70-year-old people? Because the Sixties Generation has turned 60,” he said.
Dr. Germaniuk is one of the few coroners in Ohio who can talk scientifically about drug-overdose deaths in his county because he’s one of the few who keeps statistics, he said.
About 19 percent of the cases Dr. Germaniuk reviewed over the past eight years were overdose deaths, he said. There were 380 of them.
There were 36 Trumbull County drug-overdose deaths in 2012 and 39 in 2013. Ninety percent of the people who die from overdose are Caucasian, and the largest percentage are from the 31-to-56-year-old age group.
“It’s a Caucasian problem,” he said. It’s also a problem throughout the county. He showed the ZIP codes of the victims, and they were from all over.
He showed a photo of an ordinary family and said it is representative of what has happened so many times — a man in his 40s working in any of the major industrial facilities here uses a prescription painkiller such as OxyContin for an injury.
But at some point doctors tightened their prescription-writing habits under pressure and the supply of prescription drugs dried up. Then he tries heroin “just one time” because it’s only $5 to $10 per dose instead of $80 for an OxyContin, and gets hooked.
Dr. Germaniuk credits the local drug-abuse prevention people for bringing the accidental overdose death rate down from 59 in 2011, “but it’s starting to creep up again,” he said.
Why would someone start on a drug such as heroin?
“One of the things we see is no fear,” he said. “Here’s a bag of stuff. It’s supposed to make you feel good. Once you snort it or inject it, you can’t draw back.”
Men die of overdose at about double the rate of women and have a much higher OxyContin overdose death rate, but the ratio is about the same for heroin deaths between men and women, he said.