There is no doubt that Butler County has a heroin problem greater than ever imagined. Since 2012, when I became coroner, the number of drug overdose deaths, specifically heroin deaths, has exploded.
In 2012, the total number of overdose deaths in the county was 103 and 30 of those were heroin-related. Although the Coroner’s Office is responsible for investigating violent and suspicious deaths, for many years most of the cases we saw turned out to be due to natural causes. However, beginning in 2014 there were more deaths due to drug overdose than deaths by natural causes among the cases my office investigated. This is the first time since these statistics have been recorded that overdose deaths outpaced natural deaths.
Among deaths investigated by the coroner, 2015 was even worse — not just the total number of overdose deaths (189), but heroin-related deaths alone (149) were greater than the number of deaths by natural causes (123) handled by the coroner’s office. That is a five-fold increase in the number of heroin related deaths in only three years.
We have a rampant killer in our community.
The potency of the street drugs available today is considerably stronger than in the past, when heroin users had to inject the drug into their vein to get the desired effect. Now people can snort the heroin with results nearly as potent as injection. So those people who “would never stick anything in my arm” are now at much greater risk of taking that first hit.
In recent years an extremely powerful drug known as Fentanyl has, in some cases, been combined with heroin. The emergence of Fentanyl has coincided with the increase in heroin deaths in Ohio and particularly in Butler County, documented in a report from the Ohio Department of Health. Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. Much of the Fentanyl that is mixed with, or sold as, heroin is manufactured in clandestine laboratories with a potency that could be even greater than that of pharmaceutical manufactured Fentanyl. Neither the seller nor the user knows the exact “dose” of heroin they have or the amount, if any, of Fentanyl in the product.
Heroin is highly addictive and this addiction will kill you. Heroin does not discriminate. I have been called to every corner of Butler County for heroin-related deaths. Some of the dead are young, some are old, most of the dead are in their 30s. The Coroner’s office is the last stop on a very bad journey for the person addicted to heroin. But the impact of that journey continues for those around that person who have lost a daughter, a brother, a mother, father or son.
Use of prescription opioid pain-relievers increases the risk of heroin addiction. Heroin addiction is difficult to treat; there are many agencies in the county that can help. Prevention is key. Earlier this year, Ohio led the way by publishing guidelines for the Management of Acute pain in an effort to reduce the risk of opioid exposure and possible addiction. Appropriate medication use is the responsibility of doctors and patients and families. We must all work together to stop this killer in our county.
Lisa K. Mannix, MD is the Butler County Coroner. This is one of a series of columns being coordinated by the Butler County Coalition for Healthy, Safe and Drug-Free Communities to call attention to alcohol and other drug issues facing county residents.