By Wayne Gates –
Accidental drug overdoses in Brown County continue to climb.
So far in 2017, 18 people have died from accidental overdoses, with toxicology results pending on 12 other cases.
That means that the number of accidental overdoses could climb to as high as 30 before the year is over, even if no new overdoses occur before the end of the year.
To put the number in perspective, the total number of accidental overdose deaths in Brown County was 18 in 2016. That was high enough to place the county in second place in the state for overdose deaths per 100 thousand people. Montgomery County was first with 320 deaths among a much larger population.
Brown County led the state in per capita overdose death rate in 2015 with 23 deaths and in 2014 with 17 deaths. So far, the 2017 numbers look to be much higher.
The problem is severe at the regional and state level as well. Besides Montgomery and Brown counties, the other counties in the top five for accidental overdose deaths in 2016 were also in southwest Ohio.
Butler County was number three, followed by Clermont and Adams counties.
Statewide, the number of accidental overdose deaths in 2016 was 4050, up 1000 people from just the year before. The accidental overdose rate is four times higher today that it was ten years ago.
Brown County Coroner Dr. Tim McKinley and his investigators Michael Click, Buddy Coburn and Vicky Coburn have been on the front line of the opiate war in Brown County since the beginning of this year. With the exception of 2012-2016, McKinley has served as coroner for 25 years.
“My first term started in 1989. I don’t know that you couldn’t count the number of drug overdose deaths in the county on one hand,” McKinley said.
That’s much different from today.
“Two thirds to three quarters of the staff’s time is dedicated to drug related issues. It’s the majority of what we do anymore. The biggest issue is the stress that it puts on those who respond who have to see another tragedy,” McKinley said.
“Seeing the stress on the family and friends of the overdose victim, in the first responders. That’s probably one of the hardest things. When you see the children of overdose victims, it’s very difficult. I don’t think you can discount the emotional toll that it takes.”
McKinley said that the overdose problem is causing other problems for his office as well.
“A significant amount of our financial resources are directed toward the investigation of these deaths. We fully investigate these deaths, which means a full autopsy with toxicology,” he said.
“The idea is to find those who are supplying drugs and successfully prosecute them. To do that, there has to be a full autopsy, including toxicology.”
McKinley said that responding to a suspected overdose scene requires special precautions.
“One of the most important things on a scene is safety. Once you establish that the victim is in fact deceased, then everything kind of backs off so we can make sure that no one else is going to become ill or die because of this. Some of these substances that are vaporized in the air or powder can actually be fatal.”
That requires responders to wear masks, gloves and sometimes even protective suits.
Once the scene is determined to be safe, McKinley said the investigation moves into a different phase.
“One of the things that happen at a scene is a lot of discussion among us, law enforcement and other responders. ‘What do you think?’, ‘What do you see?’, ‘What else do we need to be thinking about?’, those kinds of questions,” McKinley said.
“Before you start measuring, before you start photographing, before you start examining the body, there is a lot of forethought into what we need to do to fully investigate. Our responsibility is to determine the cause and manner of death, but we also intertwine with other agencies that have a role,” McKinley said.
When asked about the difference between what people see on television and what actually happens at a crime scene, McKinley said, “The biggest difference is that these issues are not solved in an hour. There is some similarity with the technology used, although Hollywood adds their own touches to it. What they don’t show is all of the time that is spent at a scene.”
He also opened up a little about how he handles responding to death scenes on a regular basis.
“I don’t know how we go on with the challenges of this world that we face day in and day out without prayer and without faith in our supreme creator.” McKinley said.