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April 6, 2017 - 1:08pm

Health Department report shows sharp increase in opioid-related deaths locally

posted by Howard B. Owens in drugs, drug use, genesee county, news.

There has been a sharp increase locally in overdose-related deaths, usually involving a combination of drugs including opiates, over the past four years, according to a report prepared by the Genesee County Health Department.

The rise is alarming, said Director Paul Pettit, and emphasizes the need for the work of a three-county task force that has come together to find ways to address the drug-use epidemic that has hit the region.

It's not just the number of deaths that have increased, Pettit said. There are more drug-related arrests, more drug-related visits to emergency rooms, and first responders are using the drug Narcan more frequently to help revive opiate overdose victims.

In 2013, there were five deaths in Genesee County that the Monroe County Medical Examiner attributed to the overuse of opiate-related drugs. 

There were 18 in 2015. 

In 2016, 17 deaths with toxicology completed were attributed to drug mixtures that included opiates, with four toxicology reports for last year still pending.

To date in 2017, there are seven deaths where toxicology is still pending.

"That's a pretty significant increase over the past four years," Pettit said. "It's indicative of a problem going on out there."

Of the 17 known OD-related deaths in 2016, only five were attributed to heroin mixed with other drugs, whether prescription drugs and/or over-the-counter medications. (Note: the ME for 2016 was Erie County.)

There were nine deaths caused by a combination of prescription opiates mixed with other drugs.

There was one death caused by "acute and chronic substance abuse."

It's possible that some of the heroin deaths linked to other substances might mean the heroin was laced with fentanyl or another drug.

Fentanyl is frequently linked to overdoses because users never know how much fentanyl has been added to their heroin and fentanyl is more powerful than heroin. 

A 30-gram dose of heroin will kill an average size male, but only three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal.

Of the 18 overdose deaths in 2015, 14 involved prescription opiates used in combination with other drugs and two were caused by heroin used in combination with other drugs.

In 2014, there were 12 drug-induced deaths. Nine of the 12 involved prescription opiates combined with other drugs. Heroin, used singularly or in combination with other drugs, contributed to three deaths. 

There were no heroin-related deaths in 2013, but there were five opiate-related deaths involving prescription medications.

The stats do not include Genesee County residents who died in other jurisdictions, but it does include non-county residents who died here. 

The Health Department is still in the process of compiling statistics prior to 2013.

Pettit said officials would like to get much closer to real-time statistics for drug-related deaths. When seven people in Erie County died within a 24-hour period last week, officials there were able to know almost immediately the cause of death was heroin laced with another substance. 

For Genesee, Wyoming and Orleans counties, officials sometimes wait months for toxicology reports from Monroe County.

One goal, Pettit said, is for the counties to come together and work with the medical examiner offices to get more timely reports, at least within a month of the deaths.

Of the some 500 deaths in the county annually, only about 50 resulted in a request for a toxicology report.

"We want to hone our data collection, look at trends on how things play out in the community," Pettit said. 

The stats will help inform community-wide responses.

The Genesee, Orleans & Wyoming Opioid Task Force has held one meeting and will be meeting again from 10 to 11:30 a.m., Wednesday April 19, at Genesee Community College, Room T102.

The task force is comprised of health officials, addiction specialists, law enforcement personnel, church leaders, other service providers, former drug addicts and the family members of addicts. About 75 people are participating from the three counties. 

"It's great to see the community coming together on this issue and show a desire to have a positive impact to help those folks in our community who are struggling," Pettit said.

Christopher Putnam
Christopher Putnam's picture
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Last seen: 1 week 5 days ago
Joined: Oct 11 2012 - 1:05pm

I will happily give you your first clue.

Education not incarceration.
Treatment not incarceration
prevention not incarceration

you have been arresting people and locking them up for 40 failed years of the war on drugs. The war on drugs is LOST the drugs WON. Billions of dollars have been spent, and the results are in......

More people use drugs today then when the WAR started. The entire GIANT MEGA drug war establishment has failed utterly. Its a joke to the rest of the world.

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