Fentanyl, pandemic blamed for increased drug overdose deaths this year

The number of deaths by drug overdose this year both locally and nationally has outpaced last year, and experts are concerned the deaths won’t slow down.

Almost 300 people have died of a drug overdose in Montgomery County this year through October, according to preliminary data from Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health. Butler County reported 151 overdose deaths and 63 have been confirmed in Clark County during the 10-month span.

Health officials suspect the cause of the increase can be attributed to fentanyl in street drugs and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

“People don’t know that fentanyl is in there and they overdose when they take the drug,” Dayton and Montgomery County Public Health Spokesman Dan Suffoletto said. “Also, due to the pandemic, the regular support system that people may have had has been disrupted. They may have lost contact with their support group or support person.”

Montgomery County’s 299 overdose deaths are up 5% compared to 2020 when there were 277 during the same time period. In 2019, there were 232 deaths from January to October and in 2017 overdose deaths reached a high of 500 in the 10-month span.

The number of monthly overdose deaths in Montgomery County has remained mostly steady. The lowest month recorded, according to preliminary Montgomery County data, was June with 24 deaths and the month with the most deaths was January with 34.

There have been eight overdose deaths in November.

“Even though there has been a lot of attention to the COVID-19 pandemic and that in itself has caused a lot of hospitalizations and deaths, the problem of overdoes in our community and the nation continues and the work being done collaboratively needs to remain a focus,” Suffoletto said.

He said the health department continues to work with community partners and is expanding its outreach team to get people in need connected to help available in the community. He said the outreach team will connect with people in hospital systems that have experienced overdose deaths to get them help.

Also, there are peer supporters, people who experienced addiction themselves who are now in recovery and working to help others. Anyone suffering from addiction and needs assistance can call the health department at 937-225-5700 for assistance or they can also contact ADAMHS at 937-443-0416.

Butler County Coroner statistics show there were 177 overdose deaths in 2020, up from 159 the previous year. The five-year-high came in 2017, when 232 people died.

Coroner spokesman Martin Schneider said about 85% of drug overdoses his department sees involve fentanyl.

“Additionally, methamphetamine has become much more common in our cases which was seen in 38% of our cases,” Schneider said. “In several of these, there is overlap in which both methamphtamine and fentanyl are found.”

In Clark County, there were 53 overdose deaths in the county last year. In 2019, there were 52 and in 2018 there were 65, Clark County Coroner Susan Brown said.

Clark County saw 104 deaths in 2017.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 100,300 Americans died of drug overdoses from May 2020 to April 2021. It’s not an official count. It can take many months for death investigations involving drug fatalities to become final, so the agency made the estimate based on 98,000 reports it has received so far.

The CDC previously reported there were about 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, the highest number recorded in a calendar year. Robert Anderson, the CDC’s chief of mortality statistics, said the 2021 tally is likely to surpass 100,000.

The new data shows many of the deaths involve illicit fentanyl, a highly lethal opioid that five years ago surpassed heroin as the type of drug involved in the most overdose deaths. Dealers have mixed fentanyl with other drugs — one reason that deaths from methamphetamines and cocaine also are rising.

The Associated Press and staff writer Denise Callahan contributed to this report

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