Chesterton Tribune



Drug related deaths slightly up here in 2018, but fatal heroin ODs are down

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Drug-related deaths for the first nine months of 2018 in Porter County were fractionally higher than in the year-ago period but heroin-involved deaths were significantly lower.

Those are the main take-aways from Coroner Chuck Harris’ third quarter report, released today.

Of the 56 accidental deaths recorded in the year-to-date, 32 were drug-related (28 in the year-ago), with 21 of those opiate-related and 12 of them heroin-related.

On the other hand, Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was detected in 12 cases, a 71-percent increase over the year-ago; and cocaine-related deaths are surging, with 12 recorded in the year-to-date, a 71-percent increase as well.

Through the first nine months of the year, the Porter County Health Department’s Vital Records Division recorded 1200 deaths, a 2.6-increase over the year-ago. Of those deaths, 338--a 5.6 percent over the year-ago--were investigated by the Coroner’s Office. There were 260 natural deaths; no homicide; 21 suicides (five hangings, 10 gunshot injuries, one carbon monoxide, four overdoses, and one laceration); 56 accidental; and one pending investigation (bones found in wooded area). Of the 338 death investigations investigated by the Coroner’s Office, there were 49 autopsies and 94 toxicology studies conducted for the first nine months of 2018.

“I hope that these numbers regarding opioid and heroin deaths signify a true turning point in Porter County’s drug epidemic,” Harris said. “Although we are experiencing a dip in opioid-related deaths, our overall overdoses remains about the same. I believe this shows us that when we focus on a specific task that we can achieve our goals. It is now up to us to broaden our focus to include all substance abuse. I am still cautiously optimistic of the pattern that is emerging. By no means, however, do I believe that we can let up on our battle with this epidemic. In fact I believe we need to double our effort. It is due to our diligence and commitment to this battle that our deaths have decreased.”

“Multiple community agencies and organizations contributed to this effort in curbing heroin, including utilizing the life-saving drug naloxone,” Harris added. “Naloxone can pull heroin and opioid overdose victims into immediate withdrawal, restoring breathing and saving lives, with no dangerous side effects. This pharmaceutical has saved hundreds of overdose victims over the past few years. Law enforcement and medics have played a vital role in this life-saving measure, and the result is lives have been saved. These are people’s sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. The goal is once you save the victim, to direct them to a place to get treatment.”

“Part of the dilemma we face is we have a culture that seeks to reduce pain through prescription drugs--and heroin, which is cheaper and often easier to get,” Harris noted. “Our efforts in this battle will have to involve a change in our culture and systems of care that continue to work towards more innovative ways to treat pain.”

Finally, Harris devoted a few words to reflect on his two terms in office. “It is with some melancholy that I leave the Coroner’s Office at the end of this year,” he said. “The opportunity to be of service to this community has enriched my life and I will miss that. I pay tribute to the innumerable citizens, staff, media outlets, elected officials, and my family who have helped make these past eight years as memorable and successful as they have been. Porter County is a tremendous place to call home. May this holiday season bring you all much joy and peace, and may the snowplows come early and often.”



Posted 10/26/2018




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