The Herald Bulletin

July 28, 2013

Accidental overdoses nearing crisis in Tippecanoe County


The Associated Press

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — An increase in the number of deaths from accidental drug overdoses has sparked concerns that substance abuse has reached a crisis level in Tippecanoe County.

The Journal & Courier reports the number of accidental, drug-related deaths has risen each year since 2010. Currently, one or two people in the county are dying each week from accidental overdoses.

"It's not just younger people we're seeing. It's crossing all ages, all socioeconomic groups. Prescription medication and street drugs," coroner Donna Avolt said. "We're seeing this so much more than we should. . We are no longer a smaller community immune to big-city woes."

Avolt said many of the cases involve people who've combined street drugs with prescription medication to intensify their high or those who suffer chronic medical conditions and take more of their prescribed medication than they should because their pain hasn't lessened or they've forgotten about their previous dose.

The increase has forced her to request an additional $30,000 from the Tippecanoe County Council to cover the costs of medical services such as toxicology analysis and autopsies. Both are required under Indiana law in cases of suspected overdoses.

Lafayette police Lt. Brad Bishop, who oversees the Tippecanoe County Drug Task Force, said heroin is causing a lot of issues. He said the drug coming into the county is a more pure form than in years past and that people are combining it with "just about everything."

The drug first raised alarms in Tippecanoe County in February 2011, when it was found at the scene of three unrelated drug overdoses that occurred within 24 hours. Two men died, and one woman was hospitalized.

But Avolt said the problem appears to be statewide. The issue came up during a continuing education conference for Indiana coroners in June.

"It's frustrating for law enforcement, prosecutors, (emergency room) physicians, our office . because some good lives have been lost," Avolt said. "As I told the council, the money I asked for is just a temporary fix. I know I'm going to be back before the end of the year asking for more.

"This is not a substance abuse problem for the lower socioeconomic class or minority groups. This is equal opportunity for everybody."