Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 14, 2014

Overdose deaths in Boyd County declined in 2013

Kenneth Hart
The Independent

CATLETTSBURG — Drug overdose deaths were down sharply in Boyd County in 2013, according to Coroner Mark Hammond.

In presenting the yearly statistics for his office, Hammond told the Boyd County Fiscal Court on Tuesday the county recorded 11 such deaths last year, compared with 20 in 2012.

“And the year before that, we had about 40,” he said.

Hammond attributed the decrease to law enforcement’s success in stemming the tide of illegal prescription drug trafficking. Abuse of prescription opiates like oxycodone has been the principal cause of OD deaths in the county, he said.

Many pill abusers have made the transition to heroin, but Hammond said he doesn’t expect the death toll from overdoses of that drug to reach the same heights as the one from prescription drugs due in part to paramedics being better trained to respond to heroin overdoses and better equipped to do so.

“They’re getting to people quickly and giving them Narcan (an opiate antagonist used to counter the effects of overdose), which takes their high away,” he said.

However, Hammond said there was a good chance the number of recorded overdose deaths in the county could increase this year because of a change in the law about reporting requirements for such deaths. Under the new law, he said, if a person ODs and doesn’t die immediately, but later succumbs from the effects of overdose, it’s recorded as an OD death where, in the past, it might not have been.

Also, according to Hammond, the year isn’t off to a promising start with regard to overdoses. The coroner’s office responded to four deaths within a 16-hour period on Friday, and “two, maybe three,” were ODs, he said.

Overall, Hammond said, a total of 1,064 deaths passed through his office in 2013. Of those, 864 were determined to be natural deaths, while 122 resulted in investigations being opened.

In addition to the 11 overdoses, Hammond said, the deaths investigated broke down as follows: six from gunshot wounds, 75 cardiac-related, eight respiratory-related, two from motor vehicle accidents, three from homicide, and one each from fire, stroke, positional asphyxia, hanging, pulmonary embolism and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Hammond said investigations conducted by his office last year resulted in 11 autopsies being performed, a number he said was about average. He also noted there had been a steep increase in the number of cremations being done in the county from when he first took office — from about 80 a year to 207 last year. State law requires the coroner to sign off on all cremations, he said.

Also, Hammond said, the coroner’s office did 47 transports last year — 34 local and 13 to Frankfort. The office’s total transported expenses were $3,800. Had those been contracted out, it would have cost the county $23,200, he said.

Hammond also told the fiscal court he and his deputies underwent a total of 400 hours of training last year — an average of 40 hours per person. The state requires only 18 hours of training a year to have a coroner’s or deputy coroner’s license, he said.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.