By Ed Runyan
The toll for overdose deaths keeps rising in Trumbull County, reaching close to 100 in 2016 with some cases still not finalized.
The tentative number of 96 is another increase over the 87 deaths in 2015, which was a sizable jump over 2014, when there were 54.
The other highest year was 2007, when there were 64, fueled by the OxyContin problem, according to statistics from the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office.
The coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, cited the “heroin crisis that is raging” and the resulting high number of autopsies he carried out in 2016 – 328 – as among the reasons he’s been searching for 13 months for a second medical examiner to help perform autopsies.
The other reason is his retirement in four years and his age, 63, he said.
There’s a financial cost to the county for his office’s having to run lab tests and investigate drug deaths, but nearly 100 deaths are a significant number in other ways.
“If the homicide rate was [nearly 100], you’d have the national guard patrolling the streets,” he said. “Every year, it keeps getting worse.”
In recent years, police have investigated some overdose deaths as a criminal matter. Several people have gotten long prison sentences for providing the drugs that killed users.
Shelley Mazanetz, chief investigator for Dr. Germaniuk, said the spreadsheet for this year’s deaths indicates to her that a dramatic increase in fentanyl and carfentanil has contributed to the higher numbers.
Only 23 percent of the overdose deaths in 2015 were related to fentanyl.
But 68 percent of the deaths in 2016 were for fentanyl, carfentanil or a mixture of fentanyl and other drugs – 65 of 96. Fentanyl and carfentanyl are much more powerful than heroin, the drug that produced most of the deaths before 2016.
Two more deaths were investigated in 2016 that occurred Dec. 28, 2015, and Dec. 29, 2015.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, issued a news release Friday commenting on a report naming Ohio the No. 1 destination for fentanyl in the nation.
“We are losing too many of our friends, neighbors and relatives to this destructive drug epidemic,” Ryan said. “Addiction is a disease, and the people suffering need care just like anyone else who gets sick in this country, yet only 1 out of 10 Americans who suffers from substance abuse gets treated.
“We cannot afford to do nothing. We must respond to this crisis from all sides by improving coordination to stopping these deadly drugs from coming into our state from places like China, while also increasing and expanding access to treatment for those who are suffering.”
Ryan and U.S. Rep. David Joyce of Russell have introduced the STOP OD Act of 2017 that would increase the availability of the opiate-reversal drug naloxone for first responders and expand naloxone training and administration and enhance education and preventive efforts.
Lauren Thorp, director of recovery and youth programs for the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said the community is addressing the problem by providing naloxone to first responders and providing educational events.
The Project Dawn program run through the Trumbull County Combined General Health District gave out 228 naloxone kits to first responders in 12 police departments and the Warren Fire Department in 2016.
There were 134 successful overdose reversals with those kits, and four unsuccessful, said Kathy Parilla, public-health nurse for the county health department.
“When you look at that number [overdose deaths], and think about how many more people could have died, it stresses the importance of having naloxone in the community,” Thorp said.
The Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention group Thorp runs that meets monthly has close to 40 people in attendance.
The group, known as the ASAP Coalition, has four major events per year: Hope for Recovery in March for families, the drug summit for professional development, the Summer Track Meet and the recovery rally to celebrate recovery.
Trumbull County has ranked among the top 10 counties in the state in recent years for number of overdose deaths per capita.
Thorp said the opiate problem exists throughout the country, but she thinks job loss and poverty resulting from factory closings in Trumbull County are a factor in the county’s high overdose death rate.
“People were abusing drugs when there were more factories here, but they had insurance to get help,” she said.