KOSCIUSKO COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — Fentanyl overdose deaths are a national problem.
Last year, provisional data from the CDC indicated that more than two-thirds of drug-involved overdose deaths were blamed on fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
That’s seven and a half times the number in 2015.
The percentage is even higher in Kosciusko County where, in July, there were six overdose deaths related to Fentanyl.
Total overdose deaths are at 20 and only one was strictly cocaine-related. The rest were fentanyl or combined with Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, often called “tranq,” or methamphetamine.
Tyler Huffer, Kosciusko County coroner who formerly worked as a paramedic, wants his community to be aware of this terrible epidemic.
Brand new to the office in January, Huffer plans to erect a sign that will keep the tally of overdose deaths in his county. The sign could go up outside the Kosciusko County Coroner’s West Lake Street office as early as next week, Huffer said.
About 80% of the 20 drug overdoses this year can be attributed to fentanyl, but other drugs include cocaine, xylazine known as “tranq” and methamphetamine.
In July alone, there were six fentanyl-related overdose deaths, Huffer said. Last year’s estimated total was 28, even though data wasn’t kept on a regular basis.
“So we have to address the overdose epidemic happening in our county. It’s happening throughout the whole nation as well. We can’t sit by idly and let this happen anymore because it’s happening to families. It’s happening to parents. It’s happening to their children. We need to be active and engaged in our community. That’s what we’re here for,” Huffer said. “We are seeing it from 20-year-olds to 60-year-olds. It’s more on the younger side, probably, but we are seeing it in people in their 50s and 60s.”
The drugs are injected or taken in pill form, he added. Some people aren’t aware that a family member is taking drugs.
Kosciusko County has a population of about 80,000 and includes a wide range of incomes. About 11% of the population lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On the other end of the income scale are lake property homeowners and their friends.
Huffer says he sees overdose deaths in every socioeconomic index. County paramedics make Narcan runs “almost daily.” Narcan is administered nasally and reverses overdoses.
“We are meeting with other agencies in the county on a weekly basis, monthly basis trying to see where we’re at and collaborate and bring awareness to this,” Huffer said during an on-site interview Wednesday. The Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department is working with the coroner to make the sign happen.
Capt. Kevin Hunter of the Fort Wayne Police Department has been the record keeper for the department for years. According to his statistics, 8% of drug overdoses showed fentanyl in autopsy reports in 2013, just when the drug started to surface in the U.S. and Allen County. The percentage has steadily risen. In 2022, the percentage was 76%, Hunter said.
“One of the driving factors in overdoses and overdose deaths has been the counterfeit M-30 pills. The Fort Wayne Police Department seized over 98,000 of those pills in 2022,” Hunter said in an email. The M-30s are manufactured to look like oxycodone, a painkiller. Only a grain-sized amount of fentanyl can kill a person and fentanyl is too often found in those pills.
Last year, 154 people died of an overdose, according to Hunter’s statistics. This year there’ve been 61 deaths and 24 cases pending toxicology. The peak year for overdose deaths in Allen County was 2021 with 173.