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In recent years drug overdoses have skyrocketed in the U.S. They’ve become the nation’s leading cause of accidental death. And — no surprise — it’s been the leading cause of accidental death in Humboldt County for years.
This Thursday is International Overdose Awareness Day, so the Outpost wanted to discuss the issue with local officials, experts and citizens in an effort to find out the current status of this life-robbing epidemic.
But since it’s too much to condense into one day, we’re starting now.
This LoCO Video Report first takes you to a place where no one wants to go: The Coroner’s Office.
We talk to deputy sheriff coroners Trevor Enright and Jamie Barney, who provide some up-to-date death statistics.
It’s a recipe for death — a game of Russian roulette — and the Humboldt County coroner’s office sees it all too often. Whether death comes in the form of an overdose or disease — or even a car crash or homicide — drugs and alcohol are the main ingredients, the loaded gun.
Enright says the amount of overdose deaths was consistent in recent years, but that it’s actually not as common as other fatal effects of drugs and alcohol.
“More commonly we see the long-term use effects,” he said, “such as cirrhosis and cardiomyopathy, and just years of drug abuse that takes its toll and causes death later in life.”
According to the county Department of Health and Human Services, from 2012 to 2016 Humboldt had 372 deaths that were drug-related, with almost half being overdoses. There were another 366 alcohol-related deaths, with many stemming from chronic use. That’s 738 people dead in just a five-year period from drugs and alcohol.
As for this year, there have been 37 accidental deaths so far in Humboldt County. Three have pending toxicology reports, two asphyxiated while intoxicated with alcohol, eight drowned and eight died from other causes. Sixteen were determined to be a drug overdose.
This time last year, from January to August, there was 22 drug overdose deaths. So the numbers are actually down in comparison.
Could local efforts to combat the epidemic be working?
Enright says, “I like to think the efforts — state, county, and local — are having a positive impact.”
But what’s interesting is the wide variety of toxicology reports. Three people overdosed on methamphetamine, one from positional asphyxiation while on meth, two from unspecified opiates, two from morphine, one case of morphine & fentanyl, one hydrocodone, one heroin, three unspecified multi-drug combinations, one pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol, and one cardiac arrest resulting from drugs. Last year’s overdoses also included the prescription pills tramadol and clozapine. It’s all over the place.
And although not always the cause of overdose, deputy coroner Barney adds that alcohol is almost always present.
“I see a lot of mixture of things, especially alcohol. Alcohol seems to be in every ‘tox’ that you have an overdose with methamphetamine or heroin,” he said.
The youngest overdose victims so far this year were both 19 years of age, one male and one female. Which is younger than 2016, which had two 21-year-old males overdose. The oldest overdose victim so far this year was 69.
Enright also says that the overdoses are effecting every socioeconomic class.
“But we have seen more tragic cases with your tolerant users or chronic users on the street,” he says. “They never make it to the hospital because no one wants to call because of involvement with law enforcement. And that’s a tragic thing I find myself explaining to families a lot.”
Both deputies state they would like to see continued local efforts to help fight the overdose epidemic.
“We deal in death and dying everyday and it’s really sad to work with family members that are victims,” said Enright. “So I’d like to see people be saved, but with that comes effort and education for everybody.”
Stay tuned for more coming on overdose awareness.