Drug overdoses in Letcher County fell by half in 2012 from the year before, but still resulted in 12 deaths, statistics released by the Letcher County Coroner’s Office show. The report shows that drugs were also a factor in eight other deaths here last year.
Twenty-four overdose deaths were reported Letcher County in 2011, while 18 people died from drug overdoses in 2010, said Letcher County Coroner Marty Baker.
Baker said most overdoses have included a combination of prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs classified as benzodiazepines. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are popular narcotic painkillers. Drugs sold under the brand names Valium, Klonopin and Xanax are the benzodiazepines that most often appear in toxicology reports.
The pharmaceutical drug gabapentin, which is sold under the brand name Neurontin and is used as a non-narcotic treatment for epilepsy and nerve pain, also showed up in several toxicology reports.
A large amount of methamphetamine was detected in one overdose, Baker said.
Baker said drugs were a contributing factor in eight additional deaths in 2012. In those cases, which involve car wrecks or suicides, Baker said a significant amount of drugs and/or alcohol was detected.
Drug-related deaths in 2011 totaled five .
During the past six months, Baker, a supervisor at Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital (ARH), said 19 cases of drug overdoses were treated at the ARH emergency room.
“ They survived,” said Baker.
Had those people not gone to the emergency room, they most likely would have died, Baker said. Sometimes people overdose at a residence, go to sleep and may or may not wake up, he said.
“Those combination of drugs slow down the respiratory system,” said Baker. “It can be fatal.”
About 300 of Letcher County’s 24,500-plus residents die each year. The coroner’s office worked a total of 81 fatality cases in 2012 and drugs contributed to 20 of those cases.
Baker said the number of drug-related deaths in the county is lower than it could be because a few overdose victims may have died after being transported to medical facilities in other counties or states. Those overdose deaths aren’t included in Baker’s figures since they did not die in Letcher County.
Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II also said the number of drug-related deaths could be lower because some substances aren’t tested or don’t show up in toxicology reports.
Banks said drugs are more common than alcohol in driving under the influence (DUI) cases.
“I can hardly recall having a true DUI (case) with alcohol,” said Banks. “It’s usually drugs or a combination of drugs.”
Banks said drugs are a contributing factor in fatal wrecks, assaults and domestic violence cases.
“We’ve still got quite a bit of (drug) abuse,” said Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb. “We continue to investigate the people who are selling the drugs and trying to determine when someone dies of an overdose where they got the drugs. This is someone who takes advantage of those who are addicted.”
Webb said people who sell drugs to those who are addicted don’t care and are just wanting to make money.
“A doctor tells you how to correctly take (prescription medications),” said Webb. “You can go to a drug dealer and get as much as you want.”
Webb said the sheriff ’s department has worked through investigations to slow the trafficking on methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and synthetic drugs into the county.
“Pills are harder for us to deal with because everybody can get them,” said Webb, whose office has made numerous arrests in connection with possessing or trafficking controlled substances.
Baker said if people think they have taken too many pills or are in respiratory distress or see someone else who is, they need call 9-1-1.