Scott County

After a steep drop in overdose deaths, is the opiate crisis waning in Scott County?

Drug syringe and cooked heroin on spoon.
Drug syringe and cooked heroin on spoon. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Officials reported a marked drop in drug overdoses and related deaths in Scott County during 2017.

Coroner John Goble said 10 people died from opiate overdoses over the year, with another suspected case that occurred the week before Christmas. He is awaiting results of a toxicology test in that case.

The number of local overdose deaths is a nearly 50 percent drop from the 21 deaths recorded in 2016.

“I still say it’s due to Narcan,” Goble said, referring to a medication that temporarily relieves the symptoms of a heroin or opiate overdose, allowing OD patients time to obtain medical care.

However, the dramatic reduction in the number of deaths does not mean the opiate crisis is waning in Scott County.

County ambulance crews responded to 120 overdose patients as of Dec. 27 and administered 187 doses of Narcan, said Georgetown-Scott County Emergency Medical Services Director Brandon Remley.

During all of 2016, paramedics and EMTs handled 125 ODs and administered 168 doses of Narcan.

Overdose Antidote Schools
A nasal administered dose of Narcan. Stephan Savoia AP

Usually, only one dose of Narcan is needed to relieve symptoms of a heroin overdose.

However, local police and ambulance crews report cases where more Narcan is needed when a drug abuser takes heroin that has been laced with fentanyl, a far more powerful opiate.

Remley’s figures indicate at least half of the OD patients treated this year appear to have taken fentanyl-laced heroin.

Last year, about a third of the cases involved heroin with fentanyl, his figures indicate.

Narcan cost the ambulance service $6,545 in 2017, an increase from 2016’s expenditure of $5,880, Remley said.

“It speaks very positively to the effects” of Narcan saving lives, Goble said. “But it’s not free, and it’s not cheap,” he said.

Heroin and other opiates have become a widespread crisis across the country, including in Scott and its surrounding counties.

Local police and ambulance crews have seen overdoses noticeably increase, particularly since 2013, after the state legislature passed laws restricting the dispensing of opiate derivative prescription drugs like OxyContin.

Authorities say the reduced availability of those drugs pushed persons with addictions to street narcotics like heroin.