VALPARAISO — There were more heroin overdose deaths in Porter County during the first nine months of this year than during all of 2016, and the number is expected to continue climbing, according to County Coroner Chuck Harris.
"My opinion is that in 2017 Porter County will see approximately a 50 percent increase of heroin overdose deaths from the previous year," he said as part of his regular quarterly report.
There also appears to be a resurgence of cocaine use in the county, with seven fatalities through the end of September, Harris said.
There were 38 drug-related deaths during the first three quarters of the year, he said, with 33 being opiate-related and 22 involving heroin. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was detected in seven of the cases.
Porter County Sheriff Dave Reynolds said in August he believed Fentanyl was to blame for the large number of heroin deaths this year.
"Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is 75 times stronger than pure heroin," he said in August. "The users are buying heroin that is laced with Fentanyl, which is drastically increasing our overdose deaths. This introduction of Fentanyl is putting our first responders at extreme risk as well."
Porter County had 20 heroin deaths last year.
Neighboring Lake County had 33 heroin-related deaths as of Dec. 1, according to the sheriff's office. Harris said the figure compares to the 22 heroin deaths in Porter County as of the end of September and Lake County has more than double the population.
"The Porter County coroner’s office has been proactive in reaching out to schools, community organizations and inmates, to educate them on the dangers of our current drug culture in Porter County," Harris said.
"Our ultimate goal in this endeavor is to reverse the current drug trends Porter County is experiencing," he said. "However, this will certainly fail unless everyone in the community pitches in to fight this battle. The problem is too large at this point to arrest our way out of it, and will certainly take a community effort to make a difference."