Hamilton County Coroner outlines 2017 heroin overdose death numbers; talks solutions

2017 overdose deaths were up 25% from year before according to Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, Hamilton County Coroner (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Scary and alarming, that's how the Hamilton County Coroner describes the overdose death count from 2017.

She also says that Narcan is the reason there weren't more overdose deaths last year.

Overdose deaths are up by 31 percent over the year before. Part of that has to do with fentanyl, which is a deadly pain reliever that is stronger than heroin.

There is some encouraging news. A grant will pay for more QRTs, quick response teams, that respond to people who survive overdoses, to get them help. QRTs include first responders, hospitals, treatment providers, area officials and faith-based initiatives.

"What's encouraging, people are talking about problem it's not taboo people are looking for real solutions people right here talk everyday about getting help for addicts,” said Hamilton county Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco.

There are also more DEA agents assigned to work high end federal cases involving drug dealers.

"The number of Narcan doses administered and the number of people being saved is huge. Obviously our 529 overdoses deaths is huge number but there's no doubt that would have been double or triple if we did not have Narcan out there in the hands of police and first responders," said Dr. Sammarco.

It's also more than just talk. The $1.4 million 16 bed Hamilton County Engagement Center is expected to open in April as the county looks for more ways to provide treatment for addicts. That’s where EMS can bring patients after an overdose to stay short-term, be assessed and go into treatment.

There are still efforts to fund treatment beds in the Hamilton County Justice Center and quick response teams that get overdose survivors help is expanding.

"No community has said no, there are 40 so far,” said Heroin Task Force Commander Tom Fallon.

But Northern Kentucky is way ahead of Hamilton County with St Elizabeth's “Commitment to Addiction” treatment that starts in the ER.

"St. Elizabeth Hospital really stepped up and said ‘Hey, we're going to be leaders on addiction treatment’," said Newtown Heroin Coalition Chief Tom Synan.

But Kentucky doesn't have to deal with a Cincinnati problem, that the city is a distribution hub for dealers.

"Hamilton County dealers locate here, that's why more overdoses so many impaired drivers getting back on the road can't wait to use it,” said DEA Agent in Charge Tim Reagan.

"We need communities every neighborhood to keep an eye on their neighborhood to get dealers and get help for addicts,” said Dr. Sammarco.

The coroner's message is simple: We can't do this alone.

When asked about President Trump's proposal of the death penalty for drug dealers, Dr. Sammarco replied that the death penalty isn't the answer.

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