It’s only been a couple of months, but law enforcement and health officials are reporting encouraging news in the opioid crisis in Butler County.
As of this week, there only have been three confirmed fatalities in 2018 that were caused by drug toxicity, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office.
Comparatively, 15 people died of overdoses in January and February last year.
Last year, the county set a record when 92 people died from drug overdoses. In 2016, the county reported 74 overdose deaths.
Tim Fennell, detective with the Butler County Drug Task Force, said only one of the three fatalities was caused by fentanyl, a powerful painkiller often mixed with heroin or other drugs.
Law enforcement officials and Butler County Coroner William Young III cited fentanyl as the main culprit behind the surge in overdose deaths here last year.
So far in 2018, one person has died of toxicity from cocaine and several types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, while another died of buprenorphine toxicity, according to reports filed by Young’s office.
Buprenorphine is a less powerful opioid that is prescribed to treat opioid addiction.
Officials said they are optimistic about the lack of overdoses, though it is unclear why the fatalities have dropped off.
“It is absolutely good news,” Fennell said.
Opioids typically come into the country from China and Mexico. Most of the blends available locally are mixed and distributed by dealers based in Philadelphia, Fennell said.
In some cases, the dealers arrested in Butler County are not natives of the area.
“They need to know they can’t come in here and kill our citizens and get away with it,” Fennell said.
District Attorney Richard Goldinger announced his “Not in My Backyard” initiative in April of last year, vowing to ask for maximum bail amounts and maximum punishments for drug dealers prosecuted by his office.
Butler Ambulance Service, which responds to medical calls in Butler and the surrounding townships, has reported an average of one overdose call per day for the last couple of years.
Starting in October of last year, the service started to see a decrease in the number of overdose calls, said Gene Troyan, director of operations.
In December, the ambulance service had nine overdose calls, all of which ended with a patient being revived with naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote also known as Narcan.
In January, the service only had one overdose call. In February it had five, and six days into March it had three. None of those calls resulted in fatalities.
In 2017, paramedics with the service observed it often took more than one dosage of naloxone to reverse the overdose, Troyan said. This is likely because users were getting stronger blends of opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil — a synthetic opioid that is 100 times as strong as fentanyl and 10,000 times stronger than morphine.
Troyan said the ambulance service does not usually recoup its costs from overdose calls, because patients refuse transport to a hospital and a non-transport cannot be billed to insurance companies. The cost for the ambulance service associated with responding to an overdose and administering naloxone is estimated to be $240.
Being sent out to one overdose call per day also ties up ambulances, which could be needed for other emergencies at any time.
“It’s very positive for us,” that fewer people are overdosing, he said, “Everybody benefits from that.”
Butler County Coroner William Young III in an interview said he credits the police and district attorney for the slowdown in drug activity.
“It’s great. My job is much simpler and it costs the county less money,” Young said.
While a smaller number of lives have been lost to the drug crisis this year, the coroner’s office has seen three accidental deaths and three suicides in the first two months of the year.