GREENVILLE – The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) released its figures for unintentional drug overdose (OD) deaths in Ohio for 2018 and Darke County did not fair well. Out of 88 counties in Ohio, Darke County was ranked 20th with the per capita deaths at 37.2 per 100,000.
In 2018, 3,764 Ohioans died from unintentional drug ODs and 18 of those took place in Darke County. There is a discrepancy in the numbers provided by ODH and the number of unintentional OD deaths reported by the Darke County Coroner’s office. The coroner identified 12 deaths in 2018. Seven of those were directly related to fentanyl with six of the seven due to four different fentanyl analogs. A fentanyl analog is a drug that has been designed to mimic the pharmacological effects of the original drug.
Darke County’s worst year for unintentional drug OD deaths was in 2017. ODH reports 28 deaths and the coroner reported 24 deaths. Twenty-one cases were a result of fentanyl analogs including carfentanil.
The numbers continued to decrease in 2019 with nine unintentional OD deaths reported by the coroner’s office. Two were fentanyl with cocaine, three were fentanyl with meth, two were a fentanyl analog, one was meth and one was inhalant abuse. Five females and seven males died with four in Greenville, one in Wayne Lakes and four in the county in three different townships.
Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker was not surprised by the county’s ranking because of its close proximity to Ohio’s worst county for deaths, Montgomery County. “There was no doubt that Dayton was the epicenter of the heroin and eventually fentanyl epidemic, not just for Ohio but the whole country,” he said.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only Darke and Montgomery counties that have been hit hard. Many of the counties in southwest Ohio are also in the top 20. Whittaker pointed out that when pill mills and doctor shopping was impacted by enforcement and changes in law made it difficult for dealers and users to obtain prescription drugs. He added, “Oxycontin was manufactured in a way to deactivate the drug if it was crushed or broken down; also making it difficult to abuse. We affected the supply chain; the problem with this is the addiction was already set. This made the market ripe for the introduction of mass quantities of cheap heroin which evolved into synthetic opioids like fentanyl.”
A decline in the number of OD deaths doesn’t mean there are fewer people abusing drugs. Deputies continue to the see the same people using. One of the biggest reasons for the decline is the availability of Narcan/Naloxone, which is now available at pharmacies without a prescription. “Families, friends and users have Narcan available to them. Some law enforcement, including the Sheriff’s Office have started carrying Narcan and have administered it,” he said. Another factor in the decline is some substance abusers have switched to other drugs.
According to Chief Deputy Whittaker, heroin and fentanyl are still being sought and used, but more powerful synthetic opioids are emerging. He added, “There was recently a spike in OD calls/ ER visits in the Dayton area two weekends ago, which typically suggests a new and more powerful product was on the street.”
The break Darke County saw from opiates about a year ago may not be long lived. The Sheriff’s Office has found a lot of drug users will use multiple kinds of drugs. Methamphetamine was the drug of choice about a year ago. Whittaker said, “Some of these people were known opioid users as well. So there was some belief that they switched drugs but they seem to gravitate back to the opioid or use both.”
Until 2019, the last time Darke County reported single digit unintentional OD deaths was in 2013 when nine were reported to ODH.
Visit DarkeCountyMedia.com for a link to the full ODH report.
Contact Editor Ryan Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 569-0066. Read more news, features and sports at DarkeCountyMedia.com.