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Coroner expects overdose deaths to double previous record in county

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LORAIN — County officials again met to discuss the unprecedented opioid epidemic at a town hall meeting Tuesday night at Lorain City Hall, with the coroner predicting the county’s overdose toll will nearly double the previous record.

“We’ve never seen it like this before,” Sheriff Phil Stammitti said. “People want to say these are bums overdosing on heroin, but it’s not. It’s people ages 18 to 40 who get addicted to painkillers first and then when they’re taken off those medications, they want something similar so they go for heroin and fentanyl.”

Stammitti said it’s an issue that affects everyone and is in almost every neighborhood in the county.

Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans said he has visited “every nook and cranny” of Lorain County dealing with opiate overdoses three times as many people are dying of these overdoses as compared to previous years.

“We’re going to get up to at least 140 in the county this year,” he said.

“And we were previously in the neighborhood of about 60, so this is a huge jump. These are not new drugs. More people are just actively going and looking for that high now, and heroin and fentanyl are much cheaper than prescription drugs on the street.”

Evans said more than 600 people die across the world from drug overdoses every day, 100 in the United States and eight from Ohio — with two or three each week coming from Lorain County.

“It’s one of the main reasons we wanted to get (naloxone) into the hands of police officers,” he said about the opioid blocker that can reverse overdoses.

“Often times, police were arriving to scenes well before medical personnel and in that time, people were dying waiting for the squads so now we’ve got every officer in the state that can administer it to save lives.”

Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski said the jail is the only true detox center in the county, so sometimes it’s best for addicts to get arrested and sentenced there in order for them to help kick the addiction.

The problem is, he said, there’s a serious amount of overcrowding.

“Sometimes we have too many people that are violent offenders or have high-degree felonies, so we have to have them in the jail,” he said.

“And then it comes down to who to release. Is it going to be someone who will break into cars in order to fuel their habit? Will they be able to kick it? And this is all because of the state.”

Betleski said when the state government balanced its budget in order to recoup rainy day funds, it cut funding from the prisons and asked the counties to do more of the heavy lifting.

“We only have so many maximum-security beds,” he said.

“And so some of those guys have to be down in minimum security areas, and it’s a huge stressor for the guards who have to deal with it.”

Betleski said these cuts are a large portion of the reason the county is asking for Issue 33, a five-year, 0.16-mill issue that would raise $1.04 million a year to fund anti-drug efforts and erty owned and would go toward the county crime lab and Evans’ office.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $5.60 per year.

“The Band-Aid box is out of Band-Aids,” County Commissioner Matt Lundy said.

Contact Katie Nix at 329-7129 or knix@chorniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieNix330.



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