No sign of overdose decline in Trumbull during 2016

WARREN – In the first 200 days of 2016, more people died from accidental drug overdoses in Trumbull County than did in all of 2014, according to the latest statistics from the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office.

Deaths from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid prescription painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin, are on the rise. The drug was found in the bloodstreams of 34 people who died accidentally in the county between Jan. 1 and July 19, and was the sole drug found in the screenings of 22 decedents. In 2015, when 87 people died from accidental drug overdoses, fentanyl was found to be the sole drug responsible for the deaths of eight.

Trumbull County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk warned of “speedballing” last year – in 2015, 17 people died by mixing cocaine and an opioid. Combining the two drugs is dangerous because of the layered effects – opioids are respiratory depressants and cocaine is a stimulant.

The trend appears to be holding. Through July 19, the mixture was found in the bloodstreams of 12 people who died.

More men than women died, nearly three-fold; and deaths of white people outpaced the deaths of black people by a factor of 17. The youngest person to die was 21, the oldest was 74, and three of the deceased had underlying medical issues.

The effect of the epidemic is being felt in the court system, where 77 percent of newly indicted cases in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court this week were for drug-related charges.

One of the only ways to reverse the trend of ever increasing deaths from drug overdoses is to get users into treatment, Warren police Lt. Greg Hoso said.

“Unfortunately, there is no short supply of dealers in the city and the demand from users is also, unfortunately high,” Hoso said. “We have to catch (the users) at just the right time in their lives, get them to the right agency, connect them to the referrals and hope for the best.”

There are more options for those who want help in the Valley now than ever before, Hoso said. Stiff sentences for dealers and programs for users could be the deterrent and diversion the area needs to impact the epidemic, Hoso said.

“It falls on the users to get clean, get help and start moving their lives in the right direction, because they can be reluctant to help drug investigations until they are at that point, a lot of times these people don’t want to cooperate, they don’t want to lose their dealers,” Hoso said.

Sometimes, the best chance for a user to connect with help is an overdose that lands a man or woman in the hospital without killing them, because professionals there can convince some to connect to services and treatment, which can start them on a path to insurance coverage and recovery, Hoso said.

“It could be the eye-opener they need,” Hoso said.

The average wait time for services in the area has decreased from two weeks to two days over the past year, said April Caraway, director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

But, “It depends on what part of recovery their mind is at,” Hoso said. “We can give them the Narcan and bring them back, but if they aren’t ready for (recovery), it doesn’t matter how many times they overdose. We have to hope we get them at the right time.”

Hoso said he is certain cuts to the police department won’t help the problem.

The department is constantly receiving tips on drug houses, Hoso said. With four in the street crimes department, the team couldn’t handle a staff cut, and could use any extra bodies the department could bring on if voters pass a .05 percent income tax increase in November.

Many don’t realize how much work it takes to build a case against a dealer, Hoso said. Dealers have to be surveyed long enough for the department to build a solid case prosecutors can work with, Hoso said.

“We can’t just get a tip and go knock down the door,” Hoso said. “We still have to follow the law and do it the right way.”

Judges are starting to hand down tougher sentences for dealers, and that deterrent could have a positive effect, Hoso said.

rfox@tribtoday.com