CROWN POINT — With nine fatal overdoses in eight days, including six linked to heroin, Lake County is about to break its record tally from 2015 — much to the dismay of the coroner.
“Each day, when a call would come in, I grew concerned,” Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey said this week. “We usually average about seven per month.”
As of Monday, her office has logged 72 overdose deaths, including 43 linked to heroin, Frey said. Frey is awaiting toxicology reports on 14 additional fatal overdoses, pushing her office’s running total to 86, she said.
“And we have two more months to go,” Frey said.
In 2015 alone, Lake County investigated 80 drug overdose deaths, up from 68 in 2014 and 65 and in 2013.
Frey said the exact cause behind the spike won’t be known until pending toxicology reports come back.
Oftentimes, loved ones’ families report heroin or other drug use in the days leading up to the person’s death, or investigators find evidence at the scene pointing to a suspected overdose, she said.
In some cases, families report loved ones who were trying to stay clean but accidentally overdosed after relapsing — their bodies unable to handle such a shock to the system, she said.
So far this year, nine people in Lake County already have lost their lives to fentanyl, heroin’s more lethal, synthetic cousin that’s at least 50 times stronger, she said. The other culprit is prescription pills, Frey said.
She urged people facing drug addiction to seek help at local mental health facilities or treatment centers.
She said those who suffer from opiate addiction should seek out medication used to curb withdrawal symptoms or deter use which are available at clinics.
All patrol officers at the Lake County Sheriff’s Department carry naloxone — known to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose. Nearly all other officers at the department carry the antidote.
“When that initial call comes in, they may or may not have EMS there at that time, so it’s important that police throughout the county are able to respond,” Frey said.
Mark Back, spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said it has responded to 53 overdose calls so far this year.
A 19-year-old man was found unconscious Sunday due to a heroin overdose in a bathroom by his mother in St. John Township, Back said. The man woke up after EMS officials administered naloxone and he was transported to the hospital, Back said.
As recent as Tuesday night, Hammond fire officials aided in saving an overdosing 48-year-old woman’s life, according to officials.
Firefighters arrived on the scene in the 7900 Block of New Jersey Avenue and gave her the nasal spray form of naloxone prior to a medic’s arrival, Hammond Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Margraf said.
Once paramedics arrived, they injected the woman with naxolone intravenously. The woman eventually came to and thanked everyone in the ambulance, he said.
“I keep Narcan in my glove box just in case because you never know,” Margraf said.