Coroner sees increase in overdoses

Published 3:47 pm Friday, January 29, 2021

The Lawrence County Coroner’s Office, under the direction of Coroner Ben Mack, MD, would like to bring to light an alarming increase in the number of fatal overdoses in our county.

There have been eight confirmed fatal overdoses in the last 30 days, with four other suspected cases pending autopsy and lab results, bringing the likely total to 12.

In most of the cases multiple substances have been involved, however the notorious drug fentanyl has been the lead contributor in all of the deaths.

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This is an alarming increase considering that there were only 25 overdose related fatalities in the county in the prior 12 months. Previously, there had only been four in a single 30 day period.

“The dangerous drug fentanyl has been the deadly culprit in all of these cases. Methamphetamine and a mixture of other substances have also been repeatedly observed, with fentanyl and methamphetamine being the most common combination revealed. This combination of drugs is commonly sold on the street as a ‘speed ball.’ The reason fentanyl is so deadly is due to its significantly higher potency than other opioids like heroin,” Mack said in a news release. “These deaths have occurred throughout our county, from Ironton and Coal Grove to South Point and Proctorville. The victims have ranged from ages 22 to 61, showing that there is no group of substance users that are safe.”

The corner’s office, along with partners at the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Jeff Lawless, and the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s Office, under Prosecutor Brigham Anderson, said they hope to bring this information to the public as a warning of the increased presence of such a dangerous illegal substance in our midst.

“We are aggressively investigating all leads and contacts in our efforts to track down the source of these deadly substances,” Lawless said.

“In light of these troubling deaths, we will seek to aggressively bring charges and convict those responsible for bringing these substances into our community,” Anderson said.

“Although I discourage anyone from using any illicit substances, this should serve as a warning to those that routinely do to exercise extreme caution, such as using smaller amounts, never using drugs alone and having the rescue drug naloxone (Narcan) available,” Mack, who also serves an emergency physician, said. “We are now utilizing a faster and safer lab technology from oral fluid samples. This has enabled us to typically have results in hand within 72 hours, rather than the previous turnaround time of two weeks. We are now able to identify and quantify the involved drugs faster. This will allow law enforcement to link cases and track down the source of these fatalities. I hope that this information will serve as a warning of the increase danger of drug use in our area and lead those who are addicted to seek out resources for recovery.”