By Charlotte Underwood / Staff Writer
More people in Kentucky now die from drug overdoses than motor vehicle collisions, according to statistics mentioned at Monday evening’s Whitley County UNITE Coalition meeting.
Whitley County Coroner Andy Croley was a special guest speaker at the Whitley UNITE Coalition meeting held at Williamsburg City Hall. He delivered shocking statistics regarding drug-related deaths in the area.
Numbers provided by Croley show that by June 25, 2012, Whitley County had 23 confirmed deaths of people that had drugs in their system.
“That’s about 23 too many. One is too many when they are preventable. The actual 23 could be as high as 33, because I have 10 unconfirmed cases I am waiting to get results back on,” Croley said. He investigates every death in Whitley County. There were 51 drug related deaths in Whitley County in 2011, according to Croley.
Angelika Lewis, Whitley County Unite Chair, spoke on why this is important.
“Drug overdose is a problem, not just statewide but nationwide. UNITE is all about giving out information and we want to make the public more aware. Overdose deaths are definitely a problem, they are definitely in our community and we want them to be more aware of how large the numbers are,” Lewis said.
Around 15 people attended the meeting.
According to Operation UNITE Treatment Director Elissa Price, drug use is prevalent in the area, with Whitley County being among the top two out of 29 counties to use the drug treatment hotline, adding she felt it was good people were using the hotline.
“While most of the drugs we hear about is Roxicet, for the first time ever I have had people mention that heroin was their primary drug in the last six months. That’s scary to me and I believe it is a result of the cracking down on prescription medications,” Price said.
Croley said he too had heard that “Black Tar Heroin” had been in the Tri-County and these issues were in no way limited to Whitley County.
“I can promise you that all 120 counties in the state have the same problem. It’s an epidemic, well really a pandemic because it is all over the nation,” Croley said, adding he had “no doubt” that as people left the meeting and drove home that they would pass someone using narcotic medications.
“When I was growing up, if you came up to me and said, ‘Is there a drug dealer in this town,’ I might have been able to take you to one house here in Williamsburg. Now, you couldn’t probably take me to one, but you could probably take me to one on every block. Anybody can actually be a drug dealer, whether you call it an accidental dealer or doing it to make a living,” Croley said.
As the county’s coroner, Croley said he sees drug overdoses at their worst.
“I guess I am so emotionally involved in it because I have two small children. I have seen people die of drugs from a baby to people up in their 70s and 80s; there is no age limit,” Croley said. He explained there is all different types of overdoses because everyone’s body metabolizes things differently.
“The reason people are overdosing is because they never get to the high that they got to the first time and they are never going to get there without taking multiple medications so they are taking multiple medications and they are dying. There are so many people out there that are so close to overdose, so close to death that they don’t even realize it because it is such a fine line,” Croley said.
Toxicology tests are often part of Croley’s investigations if there is a reason for the test to be performed.
Drugs being abused in Whitley County according to Croley’s toxicology tests show that Alprazolam, or Xanax as it is commonly called, tops the list with 23 percent. Oxycodone is next with 13 percent. Cannabinoids showed up in nine percent and alcohol in four percent of the drug-related deaths. Tramadol, a painkiller, also showed up with four percent and cocaine with one percent.
He explained there are three levels to a toxicology test, with the first range showing the therapeutic range, or the allowable range of medications in a body. While the second range was the toxic range which was an amount “that could harm the body.” The third range or lethal range, is known to cause death, according to Croley.
“Our body is a complex machine, it really depends at what point of agitation we put our body through before overdose occurs,” Croley said, adding people were combining medications, which was resulting in the overdoses.
“They are combining these medications, synergising, not just one medication, but sometimes three or four. I have even seen as high as six medications in one person’s system,” Croley said, before asking the question on everyone’s mind. “How do we stop it?”
He explained that a lot of people were treated at pain clinics.
“Granted certain medications are great and needed for those who are sick or in terminal pain in certain situations in a controlled environment, but when you put these medications in someone’s hand who does not need it, that’s when you get statistics like this,” Croley said. He added that Kentucky saw a lot of drug traffic in the area because Interstate 75 was a “drug pipeline from Michigan to Florida.”
“We entrust medical doctors to do the right thing. The problem is, something has happened here; it’s the doctors that are out here doing this for profit,” Croley said.
Croley said in his opinion, the first thing that has to be done to help with the problem is to talk to legislators.
“They have to be educated as well,” Croley said. Prescription drug overdose death rates are higher in eastern Kentucky, according to statistics provided by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Croley said he felt this correlated with the area’s unemployment rates.
UNITE Director Karen Kelly said she had found there are many pharmaceutical companies that don’t seem to want to help with the drug problem.
“They don’t want us to crack down on these drugs. When we tried to get the meth bill passed, lobbyists spent over 500 million dollars in this lobbying session alone. It is really a huge uphill battle,” Kelly said.
“We’ve got to stand up to pharma and their representatives and say we’ve had enough. We are concerned about people losing kids, we are concerned because our communities are dying. Education is mandatory for all of this. I am mad at some of these pharma companies. We can sit back and point fingers or we can educate ourselves, and educate our communities. We need to let all of our elected officials know that we care about this,” Kelly urged the audience.
Whitley County UNITE Co-chair Adam Sulfridge added the statistics that 80 percent of all painkillers in the world are consumed by Americans.
“The only way we can combat the kind of money the pharmaceutical companies have is by getting people involved. 3.8 people are dying a month in Whitley County,” Sulfridge said.
“This is our home and we have to protect it,” Price said.
It was also reported at the meeting that over 100 people attended the Hooked on Fishing event held on July 13 in Corbin.
“I think everybody caught a fish, but not everybody had to bait a hook,” Lewis said.
“Approximately 201 children participated in the Shoot Hoops Not Drugs Basketball Camp this year, by far our largest turnout,” Lewis said.
Lewis also reported that UNITE had some response to it sending out the DUI backlog list to law enforcement officials.
“The response has been half and half with the police officers. A lot are pleased because they did not know there were that many cases on the list; sort of jogs their memory,” Lewis said, adding “overall it is a positive thing for the law enforcement officers.”
“We are putting this on for a six-month review to see if our actions have helped, aided, hurt and to see if there is anything we can do better,” Lewis said.
New business discussed at the meeting included the ordering of a pill box for Williamsburg.
“It is a drug drop off box that kind of looks like a post office mail box and it will be installed at city hall,” said UNITE member Wayne Brooks.
“The keys to the box will be left with Chief Bird and when it gets full, the pills will be incinerated,” Brooks said.
“A pill drop off box was also recently installed in Knox County and Corbin officials have agreed that they are receptive to it,” Sulfridge said.
“The great thing about pill boxes, is it is anonymous. Whether you are an addict or just want to clean out your medicine cabinet, you can do it,” Brooks said.
By Charlotte Underwood / Staff Writer
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