Weekend overdose deaths slow after sharp increase

There were five fewer than deadly weekend before.

Though three people died in suspected heroin overdoses this past weekend, the Montgomery County Coroner’s office director called it a “good weekend.”

Fewer overdose victims were taken to the morgue than during the first weekend of the month when eight cases came in for investigation. Last week was the deadliest in recent memory, according to Ken Betz, director of the coroner’s office and the Miami Valley Crime Lab. The office is awaiting test results before making official rulings on 17 suspected overdose deaths during the first eight days of August.

Betz said the downturn in deaths this past weekend was a remarkably good sign.

“That’s just unbelievable as far as I’m concerned,” Betz said. “Let’s just hope this trend continues.”

The early-month spike was attributed to a reemergence of heroin laced with fentanyl, according to the coroner and local police. The illegally manufactured synthetic painkiller can be 20 times more powerful than heroin itself.

Betz had no concrete reason for the relatively quiet weekend but said it could be a combination of users having more money at the first of the month and word getting out to addicts as the community steps up efforts to combat the heroin epidemic.

The past weekend’s low number of overdose deaths was likely not due, however, to a decrease in the availability of heroin,” Betz cautioned.

“I do not believe the crime laboratory has experienced a decrease in the number of heroin and heroin-fentanyl cases in the last couple of weeks. That number continues to be either on the increase or at least is steady. So I don’t believe the availability has diminished on the street,” Betz said.

Last year, heroin was found to be partly responsible for 132 of the 226 accidental overdose deaths reported in Montgomery County, according to the 2013 Montgomery County Poisoning Death Review.

A pilot program taking a holistic approach to treating those with heroin addiction was launched Tuesday in Lucas County. The Toledo-area project will also help inform other communities how to best treat addiction, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The program will create two new victim advocate/clinician positions to help give immediate assistance to those living through an overdose. The $650,000 grant from the attorney general’s office will also help with after-treatment recovery housing. Outcomes will be studied and evaluated by a University of Toledo doctoral student, also paid for with the grant.