County drug deaths decline

Coroner: Law enforcement, prosecutor ‘busting their butts’ to make a difference

By John Hackley - [email protected]

According to statistics released this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021 was the deadliest year in U.S. history with a record 3.465 million deaths. In addition to COVID-19, researches attribute part of the spike to a rising number of drug overdose deaths.

The CDC does not yet have a tally for 2021 overdose deaths because it can take weeks of lab work and investigation to identify them. Provisional data through October, however, suggests the nation is on track to see at least 105,000 overdose deaths in 2021. This would top the 93,000 overdose deaths from the previous year.

The numbers for Highland County do not mirror the national trend. Of the 47 deaths investigated by the Highland County Coroner’s Office in 2021, 16 were drug related. The record year for deaths investigated by the coroner’s office in Highland County was 2017 with 27 out of 54 deaths being drug related.

Highland County Coroner Jeff Beery credits efforts by local law enforcement to stemming a rise in overdose deaths locally. “I would agree with the CDC numbers, and I think we don’t see it locally because our law enforcement hasn’t drunk the woke Kool-Aid and just let people run wild,” he said.

Research released earlier this week showed a particularly large jump nationally in overdose deaths among 14 to 18-year-olds. Adolescent overdose death counts were fairly constant for most of the last decade, at around 500 per year, according to a paper published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. They almost doubled in 2020 to 954, and the researchers estimated that the total hit nearly 1,150 last year.

Joseph Friedman, a UCLA researcher who was the paper’s lead author, called the spike “unprecedented.”

Those teen overdose deaths were only around 1 percent of the U.S. total. Adolescents, however, experienced a greater relative increase than the overall population even though surveys suggest drug use among teens is down.

Experts attributed the spike to fentanyl, a highly lethal drug that has been cut into heroin for several years. More recently, it’s also been pressed into counterfeit pills resembling prescription drugs that teens sometimes abuse.

Beery said none of the drug-related deaths reported by the Highland County Coroner’s Office in 2017, 2020 or 2021 involved teens. Sixteen of the 47 deaths investigated by the office in 2020 were drug overdoses.

Again, Beery cited the vigilance of local law enforcement to the continual decrease in overall drug-related deaths in Highland County over the years. “In the cities, though, you know as well as I do they don’t enforce the law in these big Democratic towns,” he said. “They don’t enforce anything, and they just look the other way to robberies, thefts, drugs and vagrancy and turn a blind eye, and they permit it all, so, yeah, it probably is way up [nationally].”

“I know the prosecutor has been convening grand juries like crazy and indicting people, and the sheriff’s office and police have been extremely busy,” said Beery. “When I was at a health department meeting, the Greenfield chief said his jail was full plus he had 21 people locked up in the county jail, so I think law enforcement has been busting their butts trying to get this thing under control locally.”

Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.

Coroner: Law enforcement, prosecutor ‘busting their butts’ to make a difference

By John Hackley

[email protected]