Overdose deaths in Clark County could reach record high by summer

Clark County is on pace to break last year’s record drug death total by this summer as the opioid crisis continues to spread.

The county has seen 67 suspected drug deaths this year as of May 16, including 35 which have been confirmed, Clark County Coroner Dr. Richard Marsh said.

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Last year, the county saw a record 79 drug deaths — the majority of which involve illicit fentanyl, a drug that is 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin.

It is possible last year’s total could be eclipsed in June or July, Marsh said.

“If it keeps up at this rate we could very well (surpass last year),” he said.

Nearly 500 people have died of drug overdoses in Clark County since 1998, according to coroner’s office records. More than half of those people — 265 — died between 2012 and 2016, the result of the opioid epidemic, Marsh said.

Clark County saw about 36 drug overdose deaths per year between 2011 and 2014, but that number more than doubled to 73 in 2015.

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When they’re buying drugs, people don’t always know what they’re getting, Marsh said. Many of the deaths involve multiple drugs, including cocaine.

“You’re never really sure what’s in the stuff they’re getting,” he said.

As of May 16, there have also been more than 600 overdoses in Clark County, according to Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson.

Earlier this year, Wilson announced Clark County residents who overdose on opioids may face drug possession charges if they don’t seek treatment.

The 9-1-1 Good Samaritan law, which came into effect last September, provides immunity to people seeking medical assistance for a drug overdose, allowing them to report or seek help without charges. The Good Samaritan Law doesn’t apply to people who overdose three times.

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In March, law enforcement agencies began handing out a card to people who overdose outlining the Good Samaritan law, including a formal request that they must seek help within 30 days, Wilson said. If they don’t seek treatment, the prosecutor’s office will pursue drug possession charges.

So far, the prosecutor’s office has handed out 16 cards and two have been returned, he said. They’re still waiting for test results to pursue charges in those 14 cases, Wilson said.

“We’ll get the test results back and we’ll look to prosecute those people,” Wilson said.


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About this series: Springfield’s Opioid War

The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s opioid epidemic and what local officials are doing to solve the problem.

By the numbers

600: Estimated number of drug overdoses in Clark County this year, the majority attributed to heroin and fentanyl.

79: Confirmed drug deaths in 2016.

67: Unconfirmed, suspected drug deaths so far this year.

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