DARKE COUNTY — Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record, with Ohio ranking in the top five states with the highest death rates: 39.1 per 100,000.
Numbers from the Darke County Coroner’s Office also show an increase in drug deaths ruled as accidental deaths. In 2016 there were 17 deaths due to the following causes: 2 prescription, 1 heroin, 7 fentanyl, 1 carfentanil, 4 fentanyl and cocaine, 2 as opioid.
In 2017, there were 21 deaths confirmed, and five not yet concluded. The 21 confirmed deaths are due to the following causes: 1 prescription, 17 fentanyl analogs including carfentanil, 1 inhalant, 1 cocaine, 1 undetermined, with clandestine-produced methamphetamine and cocaine present in multiple cases. A clandestine lab is used primarily for manufacturing illegal drugs.
According to Medicolegal Death Investigator Joe Van Vickle, with the Darke County Coroner’s Office, the county has not seen heroin in the last 24 months.
“We have a lot of people whose addiction started out as an opioid addiction and went to heroin,” he said. Unfortunately, the majority of our cases in this county are analogs of clandestine-produced synthetic fentanyls; predominantly carfentanil. That is the drug that is referred to as the elephant tranquilizer, and that is the majority of our substance in Darke County that we are finding.”
“As a result, the trend we have found during investigations with narcotics officers and other law enforcement agencies, is that we have seen a change in the last half of 2017, where a lot of people were steering away from the opioids, because of the fear of the fentanyls, and steering more towards the stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, in addition to whatever else they can get,” Van Vickle said.
In addition, he stated that when the 2017 drug deaths ruled as accidental deaths are completed, they will not reflect the following: an intentional overdose, to change the classification from accidental to suicide; the vehicle crashes attributed to drug impairment; the number of pregnancies complicated by substance abuse; and the number of opiate-related cases that are released from hospitals to short-term hospice care, or long-term nursing home care, that have increased over the years.
Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker said the number of overdose calls and overdose deaths in Darke County last year would have been unimaginable 10 years ago, and it is a tragedy. In 2011, there were four total drug deaths in the county ruled as accidental, all due to the cause of prescription drugs, according to the Coroner’s Office. Darke County traffic fatalities reached four last year, while overdose deaths soared over 20, Whittaker said.
“The death toll does not tell the story of those that overdosed and did not die, but suffered long-term effects, often times landing them in nursing homes for the rest of their lives at the tax payers’ expense,” Whittaker said. “Those numbers are difficult to determine.”
“The arrival of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl and their analogs have changed the way law enforcement approaches and handles drug investigations and suspected overdose calls,” he said. “These highly potent drugs now present a risk of overdose and possible death to first responders who may accidentally breathe or touch the residue of these drugs. These calls have essentially become a hazardous materials incident to first responders, requiring proper protective clothing and masks. The challenge with this is that often times the first responder does not know what they are walking into until it is too late. We have been required to educate ourselves, adapt our operations while protecting first responders and the citizens we serve. This is an ongoing process, as experts across the country continue to assess this risk and determine what the appropriate protective gear and response should be.”
“As we move ahead in 2018, news of new and more powerful drugs being discovered in Ohio, coming across law enforcement intelligence wires, indicates there is little chance of a change on the near horizon,” Whittaker said.
According to Van Vickle, toxicologists have traditionally based much of their thinking on the concept of dose. As early as the 16th century, a Swiss alchemist Paracelsus said, “What is there that is not poison, all things are poison, and nothing without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison. “
“We are finding things that will kill adults, as little as two micro grams, just by their presence,” Van Vickle said.
EDS NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series titled “Fatal Addiction” that will address the drug problem and effects on residents and resources in Darke County.
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