Highland News Leader

Madison County hits all-time high in heroin overdose deaths

Heroin and prescription drug overdoses continue to increase at an alarming rate in Madison County.

Just more than halfway through the year, the county’s heroin overdose deaths have already hit a new all-time high. As of July 15, there have been 28 heroin overdose deaths investigated in Madison County, according to Coroner Stephen P. Nonn. Prior to this year, the most heroin deaths reported in Madison County since the epidemic began in 2009 was the 26, which happened twice, in 2011 as well as 2014.

But the numbers could actually be higher. Statistics are not available to track those cases that include those persons who overdosed in Madison County but were transferred or taken to hospitals out of the county and later died.

In addition to the 28 heroin deaths, there have been 11 prescription drug overdose deaths, one illicit drug (methamphetamine) death and two other cases where drugs were the contributory factor but not the prime factor in the deaths. This brings the total number of overdose deaths at 42 so far this year.

Of the 42 cases, 14 cases are still being investigated awaiting toxicology and autopsy results. There is a high suspicion that the 14 cases are going to be overdoses.

A total of 19 cases have been confirmed heroin overdoses by toxicology and autopsy examination.

Of these cases, one case was a motor vehicle crash where the driver was under the influence of heroin at the time of the crash. His toxicology revealed elevated levels of morphine, as well as a chemical marker that confirmed heroin was the morphine source in the blood.

“The death of the vehicle crash victim dangerously illustrates how we are all affected by the scourge of heroin usage,” said Nonn. “Heroin is not just a problem for addicts and their families, as we all have to share the roadway with a heroin impaired driver. This epidemic affects the safety and security of each of us in one form or another.”

Nine cases are still pending toxicology and final autopsy reports. These cases are a high probability that they will be related to heroin due to evidence found at the scene, along with past history of abuse.

There are a total of five confirmed cases of prescription drug overdoses.

There are six cases still under investigation awaiting toxicology and final autopsy reports. The investigation in these cases highly suspects a prescription overdose.

The prescription drugs abused in the confirmed cases range from fentanyl, methadone, hydrocodone and venlafaxine.

The coroner’s office has confirmed case of cardiac tamponade due to methamphetamine use.

There has also been one confirmed case of drowning/hypothermia due to opiate use. In this case the decedent did not test positive for heroin chemical marker, but syringes and an empty capsule were found at the scene.

In addition, there has been one confirmed case of hypertensive cardiovascular disease exacerbated by methadone.

Fighting the problem

Through the Madison County Heroin Task Force, Project Drug Smart, the Federal Task Force and continued screenings and panel discussion of the film The Heroin Project throughout the community, targeted efforts have been implemented to address the increase of heroin addiction and deaths.

Such efforts have included stepped-up law enforcement in identifying and arresting the drug dealers, expanded access to effective treatment centers along with the use of the drugs suboxone and vivitrol, that have proven to be effective in treating addiction.

There is also pending federal and state legislation that supports increasing the availability and use of the drug naloxone, also known as narcan, which is used to revive a person who has overdosed on heroin.

“There is no doubt that a long-term commitment and resolve will be required to check this crisis, but I do believe that the criminal justice, medical, and social service communities are all rallying to try to contain this beast of a problem,” Nonn said.

Continued drug awareness education in local schools and throughout the community is a priority of the task force. The Task Force has made a long-term commitment to drug education in the community. One bright spot that can be cited is that no heroin related deaths of school-aged persons have occurred since the inception of a heroin education team, which has addressed more than 12,000 students in Madison County over the past two years.

“We still have such a long road ahead of us to end the grief and suffering, but it is reassuring that I have not had a death certificate cross my desk with a high school student’s name on it along with the words ‘heroin overdose’ since we began the full-court press of public information and education in 2013,” Nonn said.

Madison County Overdose Cases

2009

Total Overdose Deaths: 35

Heroin: 7

Prescription: 24

Other Illicit: 4

2010

Total Overdose Deaths: 60

Heroin: 18

Prescription: 36

Other Illicit: 6

2011

Total Overdose Deaths: 53

Heroin: 26

Prescription: 17

Other Illicit: 7

Alcohol: 2

Bath Salts: 1

2012

Total Overdose Deaths: 62

Heroin: 22

Prescription: 33

Other Illicit: 7

2013

Total Overdose Deaths: 53

Heroin: 24

Prescription: 22

Other Illicit: 6

Alcohol: 1

2014

Total Overdose Cases: 92

Heroin: 26

Prescription: 56

Other Illicit: 6

Alcohol: 4

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