By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Deaths from drug overdoses in Whitley County were “down significantly” in 2013.
That’s what Coroner Andy Croley told a meeting of the Whitley County UNITE Coalition in Williamsburg Monday night.
He added the decrease in overdose deaths last year could be credited by community awareness, along with improved efforts in drug education and the role law enforcement plays in prosecuting those using drugs.
“It is harder for people to buy the drugs,” Croley said.
Croley noted in 2013, he performed 65 toxicology reports on persons who overdosed with drugs in their system. The total doesn’t include 10 cases that were pending due to not having toxicology reports back from Frankfort, or were open cases.
Of those total cases, 26 people had opiates in their system, such as Morphine, Oxycodone and pain medications. Drugs such as Valium and Xanax were found in 22 people, while alcohol was found in a total of 10 people.
Fourth of the list was THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient found in marijuana. In Croley’s report, eight people had it in their systems, with Tramadol found in four persons. Cocaine was found in two persons, as were two persons having amphetamines (meth) in their systems.
Croley said, “Normally, I do up to 90 and over 100 cases, probably in 2012.”
He mentioned the number of overdoses from meth were drastically lower than in previous years.
“I don’t see as much meth cases and meth labs going on as in previous years. Once the Feds got into cracking down, it slowed down,” commented Whitley UNITE’s Adam Sulfridge, who moderated the meeting.
Croley mentioned there were still concerns, saying, “More so, the people who overdose are ages 35 and up.”
A nurse who works with UNITE also said drug overdose remains a problem in the county.
In addition, there are concerns about another drug problem that affects teenagers between 12-17 years of age.
Croley called the term for using Robitussin — an over-the-counter cough medicine — in large doses as “Roboing.”
“There’s an ingredient in it, a weak opiate called dextromethorphan, which gives the ‘high,’ and it’s scary. What kids are doing is unbelievable. …national statistics cited one in 10 teens 12-17 admits to getting high on cough medicine, and one in three kids report getting offered cough medicine to get high. That’s very shocking to me. They’re finding new things these days,” he said.
Croley then showed a YouTube video, showing a person giving instructions on how to get high on Robitussin.
He also suggested parents educate themselves about today’s recreational drugs, make clear to their children that both over-the-counter and prescription medicines can be just as dangerous as street drugs, that parents safeguard medicines in their house and ask their friends to do the same, and for them to monitor their child’s Internet use, as well as be aware of incoming packages or suspicious credit charges.
“What makes this a timely discussion is that House Bill 24 is being brought up in Frankfort,” said Sulfridge.
The bill would create a new section of a state statue prohibiting persons from possessing one gram or more of dextromethorphan from liquid or solid form, as well as prohibit the sale of products containing the ingredient to persons younger than 18 years of age.
Sulfridge said the UNITE group would monitor the progress on the bill in the State House of Representatives.
Detective Tim Baker with the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department also spoke at the meeting.
Baker, who works in drug investigations, said a total of 140 indictments were handled in the county in 2013.
Of that total, 113 of them — about 80 percent — were drug-related.
He also answered questions from the audience on what law enforcement is seeing on the drug scene.
“By far, our biggest problem are pills. I know heroin is a big problem up north, but we haven’t had a problem with it here. Heroin is a major problem in northern Kentucky. They think most of it is coming from Ohio …What will be the next big thing? We’re buying Suboxone on the street, but pills are still the problem here,” Baker said.
He mentioned Suboxone — which Baker called a Schedule 3 drug — is also becoming a problem in the county.
“It started in pill form, but now it’s in strips, like the breath strips people buy,” Baker noted.
While he added the number of people buying drugs has gone down in Whitley County, Baker expected law enforcement to be vigilant this year.
He told the coalition, “2014 will be another busy year. On roundups, we’re caught up now, but you’ll see the roundups on a monthly basis shortly.”
In other news at the meeting, Sulfridge said Whitley County UNITE received a $1,000 check from the Firestone plant in Williamsburg last month, with the money going towards the coalition’s anti-drug programs.
He also announced that Whitley County UNITE would have a roundtable discussion with all the candidates for County Jailer, with the date and time to be announced later.
Sulfridge mentioned Angie Bowling resigned as the coalition’s chair also last month. He then opened the floor for nominations as the group’s chair, in which Sulfridge was nominated.
Nominations for the co-chair position, as well as election of officers, will be held at next month’s meeting at noon Monday, Feb. 7, in Williamsburg City Hall.