Deaths from opioid overdoses have dropped dramatically in Vigo County in the past year, and police are crediting the use of an overdose antidote with saving lives.
“We carry Narcan and it works,” said Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse of the brand name for naloxone, the antidote which works by blocking the effects of opioids like heroin.
“We’ve used it many times. The fire department has used it many times. I know one day last week we used it two times in one day,” Plasse said.
A single dose of naloxone is intended to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when administered to a person experiencing nervous system and respiratory depression.
Data from the Vigo County Coroner’s Office shows nine deaths confirmed as opioid overdoses as of July 31.
For the same seven months in 2017, the coroner had logged 20 confirmed opioid fatalities. That’s a reduction by more than half.
Overall, suicide cases are also trending downward from recent years.
In looking at opioid overdose deaths, Vigo County experienced 16 in 2014 and 15 opioid OD deaths in 2015, but then saw an alarming increase to 26 deaths in both 2016 and 26 in 2017.
Those deaths were linked to an influx of heroin.
Last year, THPD received 130 doses of Narcan through a grant from Overdose Lifeline.
Police officers now carry a three-dose supply with them in case they are called to an overdose. City firefighters and ambulances also carry naloxone with them.
And, the public can also buy the antidote at Indiana pharmacies – no prescription is required – so that loved ones of people with an opioid addiction can administer the antidote if needed.
The drop in overdose deaths does not mean the opioid crisis is abating in the community, however.
“Heroin is still a problem,” Plasse said, noting he attended the recent statewide opioid summit to address the issue. “It’s just how we address the overdoses has changed. Hopefully, working together with the courts and the mental health and treatment centers, we can tackle the opioid epidemic.”
Meanwhile, coroner data shows suicides in Vigo County spiked at 31 in 2016 – with six of those attributed to intentional overdoses.
A review of the county coroner data for the past five years shows 17 suicides in 2013; 20 in 2014; 29 in 2015; 31 in 2016; 21 in 2017; 11 through July of this year.
Eighty-three percent of the persons who died by suicide were men.
The majority of the 129 deaths by suicide – 61 – involved use of a firearm. Asphyxiation by hanging was involved in 47 cases. Another 17 deaths were ruled intentional overdose, and four were attributed to other means. Two deaths involved trains, one was an intentional vehicle crash, and one was by carbon monoxide.
Deputy Coroner Donna Weger said Friday some of the firearms and hanging methods also had underlying use of alcohol or narcotics, as seen in the toxicology reports.
As to the number of death investigation cases where a manner and cause of death must be determined by autopsy, Weger said the office has been involved in 116 death investigations so far this year.
That is on track to exceed the 208 cases investigated in 2017, but will likely fall below the 278 death investigations from 2016.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.