20 fewer fatal overdoses than in ’17

WARREN — Data indicates there were fewer overdoses in Trumbull County in the first four months of 2018 compared to the same time last year, but officials aren’t convinced fewer deaths and fewer hospital visits for overdoses mean the area’s heroin epidemic is on the decline.

Incomplete data from the Trumbull County Coroner’s Office for the first four months of the year show there was likely 20 fewer fatal accidental overdoses this year than last. There were 38 in 2017, and there appears to have been 18 in 2018.

Data collected from a hospital alert system shows there were 257 fewer cases of people being admitted to local hospitals suffering from drug overdoses during the same time period.

“The data we have is still missing people who don’t go to the hospital for help after being revived with Naloxone. However, the biggest contributing factor to less overdoses and less overdose deaths is the widespread use of Naloxone. Lives are being saved and that means we have another chance to get people the treatment they need,” said April Caraway, executive director of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

The awareness of the availability of the opioid reversal drug, along with more awareness about street drugs tainted with the strong, synthetic-opioid painkiller fentanyl, seem to have slowed the rates at which people are dying from opioid mixtures, said Warren police Lt. Greg Hoso.

“I think part of the equation is the availability of naloxone and I think part of it too is the education and awareness of the lethality of fentanyl. Three years ago, fentanyl was new. People didn’t know how powerful it was or what they were using. Drug dealers have a better sense of how powerful it is, so they are cutting it more carefully,” Hoso said.

Niles police Capt. John Marshall said law enforcement efforts are helping, but they are seeing more of other drugs.

“Increased efforts by our drug unit and street crimes unit, as well as a shift in area drug abuse trending away from heroin and toward cocaine and methamphetamine, seem to be affecting the frequency of overdose deaths in our area. Our ongoing efforts are turning up the latter drugs in larger quantities and more frequently in recent months,” Marshall said.

Comparable data from the coroner’s office shows cocaine and meth rarely kill people without underlying health issues and without other drugs in their systems.

Cindy Woodford, CEO of First Step Recovery, the first detoxification and treatment facility to open in Warren in 2015, said admissions for detox services at the facility went down by 24 in the same time period.

“We believe it’s a combination of a number of factors, including an increase in treatment options throughout the region and the increased availability of naloxone which may delay their entry into treatment,” Woodford said.

But even as the number of people addicted to opioids may seem to be decreasing, “We are seeing an increase in individuals seeking treatment for alcohol, cocaine and meth as well, which may also be contributing factors,” Woodford said.

The county’s opioid action plan has had some successes.

There is now less than a 24-hour wait for detox services. Awareness campaigns targeting prescription writing doctors, schools and the public in general in an effort to reduce stigma and spread naloxone are ongoing. Fifty-three people have been trained to act as peer support recovery coaches, with 17 of them certified and plans to certify more.

Police departments are working together to increase drug trafficker incarceration.

And police officers and court personnel are communicating more to reduce or eliminate the number of drug traffickers that are allowed to go to drug court, where they have a chance of getting a lighter sentence than in a traditional felony court.