Overdose Deaths See Big Reduction in Starke County

Overdose awarenessStarke County is reporting some positive news in the battle against drug overdose.

According to data from the Starke County Health Department, an average of nine drug-related deaths were reported between 2008 and 2013 – ranging between seven and 12 deaths each year. Figures from 2014 and 2015 show four overdoses: a significant drop from previous reporting periods.

Jordan Morris serves on the board of Moving Starke County Forward – which aims to improve the health and quality of life of local residents. She says the goal is to get to a point where Starke County reports zero overdoses.

“Educating the public, educating the community on the dangers associated with the opiate pain medications, I think, is huge,” says Morris.

Each year, Moving Starke County Forward displays ribbons on the hospital lawn in Knox as part of its awareness campaign. That includes an event on August 28th – which will invite residents affected by overdose to share their experiences in Wythogan Park.

Legislation signed into law since 2014 has provided better infrastructure for those fighting substance abuse problems in Indiana, according to Morris. House Enrolled Act 1006 allocates funding for mental health and addiction treatment programs. INSPECT tracks opioid prescriptions through an online database. Further, Senate Enrolled Act 227 gives immunity to first responders using naloxone on possible drug overdose victims.

Morris says the product has even been used in Starke County.

“After its use, the individual is always taken to the hospital for follow-up care and that’s important,” says Morris. “Because it does have a time frame at which point the life of the opiate could be longer.”

Some of the overdoses reported in Starke County are considered accidental overdoses, according to Morris. Two overdose deaths have been counted in 2016.  

Despite the recent changes, the annual County Health Rankings study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation listed Starke County 90th out of 92 Indiana counties in Health Outcomes and 87th in health factors this year. That’s still considered a modest improvement from the previous year.

Morris says drug use trends in Starke County, and a reduction in overdose statistics, could have an impact on the factors included in the study.

“Economic development is largely impacted by health statistics,” says Morris. “Crime rates: there have been studies that show the link between poor health and crime. I think it goes beyond what we even understand as far as the impact that improving the health statistics would have on our community.”

Non-fatal emergency department visits are also considered important to understand broader drug-use trends. Between 2010 and 2014, Starke County rank 18th out of the 90 Indiana counties that reported data in the state per 100,000 residents. Pulaski County ranked 5th for non-fatal ER visits.

International Overdose Awareness Day is recognized on August 31st.