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Porter County Administration Center

Porter County Administration Center is shown during a summer sunset.

VALPARAISO — Fatal drug overdoses have declined for the first time in several years, Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris said Monday.

There were 19 drug-related deaths through June 30, compared to 28 for the first half of 2017, Harris said in his mid-year report.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we are headed in the right direction,” Harris said.

Harris said it had been since 2012 that overdoses had declined in the county. 

“We are just now getting things going in the right direction, and we still have a long way to go to overcome this crisis,” Harris said. “Despite the slight decrease in overall drug overdose deaths, it is still too early to confirm any trends. Obviously, we want to see a trend over a number of years before we can say with any certainty if we are seeing a slowdown.”

Thirteen of this year’s fatal drug overdoses were related to opioid use, with five of those the result of heroin use, Harris said. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is typically over 50 percent stronger than heroin, was detected in seven cases.

Community and state efforts to address drug abuse are paying off, Harris said. 

“Law enforcement has made significant saves with its implementation of Narcan in their responses to overdose scenes,” Harris said. Narcan counteracts the effects of opiates.

Other efforts are working, too, he said.

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“Treatment is becoming slightly easier to access with new facilities opening,” Harris said. “I also believe that our outreach prevention efforts may have finally started to make a difference.”

Harris has made outreach efforts aimed at prevention a part of the county coroner’s job.

"I like to focus on middle schools and high schools," he said.

Harris has spoken at programs in Lake County and Illinois as well.

“State implementation of prescription drug monitoring programs have also helped reduce the availability of certain drugs to addicts,” he said.

“As I have always said, this epidemic will only be won on a multi-faceted approach. It is important to realize that this is only one step in a long and hard fought journey, but it is a sign for cautious optimism,” Harris said.

The Porter County Health Department recorded 846 deaths in Porter County through June 30. The coroner’s office investigated 233 of those deaths and ruled 185 of them natural deaths.

Overall, the county saw 13 suicides, 32 accidental deaths — 19 of which were drug overdoses — and three for which the cause of death is pending, Harris said.

The county didn’t have a single homicide in the first half of the year.

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