Metro-East News

Opioid-related deaths reach all-time high in this metro-east county, coroner says

Can you really overdose from inhaling fentanyl?

Medical experts say you have to ingest fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, to overdose. You cannot overdose just by touching fentanyl, and it's possible, but highly unlikely to overdose from fentanyl by simply inhaling it.
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Medical experts say you have to ingest fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, to overdose. You cannot overdose just by touching fentanyl, and it's possible, but highly unlikely to overdose from fentanyl by simply inhaling it.

There have been 92 opioid-related deaths so far this year in Madison County, the county’s highest number of overdose deaths in a single year on record.

Madison County was on track in July to have 96 deaths by the end of 2018. The previous record high number of opiate-related deaths was 91 in 2014. The problem, Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn told the BND then, is not heroin or meth or prescription pills but rather fentanyl.

“Most tragically is the number of people who are left behind to grieve in the wake of this continuing epidemic,” Nonn said in a news release Monday. “It is an epidemic that continues to be a serious criminal justice problem and public health concern that is taxing the resources of first responders, social services, the justice system, and our office is certainly not excluded from the list.”

Nonn wrote in the release that there are cases awaiting final toxicology reports but evidence at the scene and known histories of drug use by the decedent suggests a drug overdose as the cause of death.

St. Clair County coroner officials said Monday the office has 45 opioid-related deaths on record for 2018 so far. In 2017 the office recorded 49 in total for the year. A spokeswoman said the office responded to two overdose deaths this past weekend, included in the 45 overdose deaths recorded and she noted the office responds to an overdose death at least once a week.

Nonn said that while the costs of investigating these deaths continue to rise alongside the number of deaths, he feels his office has managed to keep up with the work. He praised the Madison County Board and their Finance and Government Operations Committee for recognizing the seriousness and danger of the opioid problem and for maintaining his office’s funding.

The news release stated the country saw more than 72,000 overdose deaths nationwide in 2017.

Opioid Overdose Deaths
Opioid Overdose Deaths in St. Clair and Madison counties Information provided by Karen Tilashalski, Chestnut Health Systems

Nonn wrote that his office continues to use a three-step approach to fight this epidemic:

Education: Provide public education opportunities with speaking engagements within educational institutions, civic groups, and health care specialists

Enforcement: Work with other law enforcement agencies in a cooperative effort that assists in interviews of witnesses and collection of evidence at the scene that can allow for full prosecution for those dealing opiates.

Treatment: Partner with rehabilitation centers in recognition that this epidemic cannot be solved by arrests alone, those who are addicted and are targets of the dealers need to be addressed as well.

“It is true that over the last couple of years, there has been some paring back of budgets and spending throughout county government — including some areas of my budget — but in the end, the Office of Coroner and the Finance Committee, engaged in very productive dialogue in protecting areas of budgeting and spending as the overdose surge continues,” Nonn said in the news release. “This process was a partnership discussion with our office fairly proposing what we needed and could justify to complete our mission task and the finance committee, along with the full Madison County Board listening, being engaged, and being responsive to the public safety needs of the Citizens of Madison County.”

Highland EMS and Fire Capt. Tim Rusteberg gives a demonstration on how to administer naloxone, or Narcan, a drug used to combat opioid overdose.

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Belleville News-Democrat news editor Dana Rieck was selected as Editor and Publisher’s “25 Under 35 Newspaper Leaders” for 2018 and works with the Online News Association in St. Louis. She attended Colorado State University and grew up in Loveland, Colorado.