Johnson County saw fewer fatal overdoses in 2022 than in 2021, but that doesn’t mean the problem has gone away, officials say.
Last year, the Johnson County Coroner’s Office responded to 300 death investigations — 40 of which were fatal overdoses. The office responded to five fewer fatal overdoses in 2022 than it did in 2021, said Mike Pruitt, county coroner.
For the coroner’s office, the most common drug they find for fatal overdoses is fentanyl. Sometimes the drug is found by itself, but other times it’s a mixed drug intoxication including fentanyl, Pruitt said.
“We’ve had some more heroin, some more methamphetamine, but the majority came back positive for fentanyl,” he said. “Which kind of matches up with what’s happening not only statewide, but nationwide also.”
It’s too early to say what caused the decrease, Pruitt said. It’s hard to measure what’s going on with just two years of data, and he believes a third year of data could help with determining what caused the drop.
“There’s a lot of factors that could play in, and you think back to ‘21, we were also dealing with the COVID during that time period still,” Pruitt said. “That could have had an influence.”
There has been a more concerted effort over the last few years to reduce the number of overdoses, Pruitt said. One example of this is expanded access to NARCAN, an overdose-reducing medication also referred to as Naloxone, he said. The drug is used as a first aid measure while waiting for first responders to perform the treatment.
There’s also been more of an effort from officials to actively get those suffering from overdoses into treatment and counseling. This could be helping reduce the numbers too, Pruitt said.
Still, it’s too early to say if there will be a decrease in fatal overdoses this year too.
“If we go down again for this year … then I’d say something’s affecting that,” Pruitt said. “Whether it’s law enforcement finding out who’s bringing it into our community, whether its people are using NARCAN, or they’re getting to their services, that can affect the number. We could also be off to the races and beat the 45 we saw in ‘21.”
The year is already off to a concerning start for fatal overdoses. As of Jan. 26, there have been three fatal overdoses so far, and there are more toxicology results pending for other possible fatal overdoses, Pruitt said.
In January 2021, there were three fatal overdoses. In January 2022, there were two, he said.
“If these do come back positive — these pending toxicology tests — we’re probably having a little bit of an uptick for the month of January compared to last year,” Pruitt said.
There are a lot of reasons why overdoses — especially involving fentanyl — continue to be a problem. A major one is economic stressors, but the addictiveness of the drug is one of the biggest, he said.
“It’s so addictive that when someone tries it, gets started on it, it’s so hard to get away from,” Pruitt said.
When responding to these fatal overdose calls, many times the families are not surprised that the person died from an overdose because they knew the person had a problem. Some of the individuals may have received treatment, but got hooked again, he said.
“We’ve dealt with it in every facet of our community,” Pruitt said. “It can affect those that are well off and those that are poor the same way. It’s just so addicting.”
One thing coroners across the country, including Pruitt, have noticed, is an increase in the number of fake opioid pills. These pills could look like the real deal, but actually be laced with fentanyl, and it doesn’t take much for fentanyl to be deadly, he said.
Adderall is a common pill where coroners have seen this happen time and time again. A college student could be wanting to buy the pill to stay awake longer, so they buy it from a random person without realizing the pill isn’t what they think it is.
“It looks like the real deal. It’s got the number printed on it,” Pruitt said. “Then when they go and take the drug, what they didn’t know was that it had fentanyl in it and it turns fatal.”
The coroner’s office has responded to cases where they’ve found a prescription medication that had identifiers for one drug, but what it actually was is completely different. This is why it’s important for people to not only not take drugs that aren’t prescribed to them, but for family members to pay attention to what their loved ones are taking, Pruitt said.
If they are taking something they shouldn’t, it should be disposed of immediately, he said.
“You’ve got to get rid of that stuff, and there are places to do that,” Pruitt said. “You can take it to a Tox Drop in this county, there’s several of them out there and get rid of that medication.”
People should also be aware there are many services out there for those suffering from addiction. Along with counseling and treatment services, there are also community aid boxes, also known as NaloBoxes, available at several locations across the county. These boxes contain NARCAN, he said.
Recently, Pruitt had someone stop at the Bargersville Fire Department — where he works full-time — and ask for Naloxone. They wanted the opioid overdose-reversing drug because they had a family member exiting treatment, and they were concerned the family member would start using drugs again and that they wouldn’t have resources to treat him immediately, he said.
“So we did provide Narcan to that family and trained them how to use it,” Pruitt said. “Our hope was they’d never have to use it, but they were scared enough that they basically were pleading for help.”
Since both Upstream Prevention, a local public health organization, and the Johnson County Health Department began installing the community aid boxes, more than 650 doses have been taken. This does not necessarily mean they were used to prevent an overdose right away, but it shows they are in the hands of the people who may need them in their time of need, said Betsy Swearingen, health department director.
“It provides something that may give a person another chance,” she said.
The boxes also provide treatment resources for those who want to enter recovery, Swearingen said.
In the future, the health department plans to continue to work with Upstream Prevention and OverdoseLifeline to put out more boxes where they are necessary for the community, Swearingen said. Upstream is currently working to get additional boxes installed at several locations, including Coffeehouse Five in Bargersville and Franklin College, said Erica Ratz, a project coordinator for Upstream Prevention.
”For all intents and purposes, we’re all one big group working together, and we will continue to work with them,” Swearingen said.
AT A GLANCE
What: Community aid boxes known as NaloxBoxes have been installed at 18 locations throughout Johnson County by Upstream Prevention and the Johnson County Health Department. The boxes are stocked with naloxone — an opioid overdose-reversing medication — as well as with instructions and resources for recovery.
Where boxes are located:
- Downtown Edinburgh, 105 S. Holland St.
- HeavenEarth Church, 309 E. Main St., Whiteland (At front entrance on west side of building)
- Hilltop Motel, 5351 S. U.S. 31, Franklin (In lobby, on west wall)
- Johnson County Adult Probation (East Annex), 101 E. Jefferson St., Franklin (Behind where the sheriff deputy/security sits. Public will have to ask for naloxone and information.)
- Johnson County Community Corrections, 1071 Hospital Road, Franklin (Behind the receptionist desk. Public will have to ask for naloxone and information.)
- Johnson County Courthouse, 18 W. Jefferson St., Franklin (In the basement, left at the elevator)
- Johnson County Juvenile Detention/Probation, 1121 Hospital Road, Franklin (Box is on the detention side, by the bathrooms)
- Johnson County Museum of History, 135 N. Main St., Franklin (Box is behind the receptionist’s desk)
- Johnson County Public Library – Clark Pleasant Branch, 350 Clearwater Boulevard, Whiteland (By drive-thru book drop)
- Johnson County Public Library – Franklin Branch, 401 State St. (On mini-food pantry box)
- Johnson County Public Library – Trafalgar Branch, 424 S. Tower St. (Outside, to right of main entrance)
- Johnson County Public Library – White River Branch, 1664 Library Boulevard, Greenwood (Left of main entrance by Community Room door)
- Johnson County Public Library Services Center, 49 E. Monroe St., Franklin (On porch, to right of main entrance)
- Johnson County Salvation Army, 325 Market Plaza, Greenwood
- Johnson County West Annex, 86 W. Court St., Franklin (Behind where security sits, in the main entrance)
- Quality Inn, 150 Lovers Lane, Franklin (By vending machine in lobby)
Red Carpet Inn/FantaSuites, 1117 E. Main St., Greenwood (In the courtyard by the pool)
- Valle Vista Health System – Outpatient Center, 65 Airport Parkway, Suite 106, Greenwood (On outdoor pillar in front of Suite 106)
More Information: upstreamprevention.org/upstream-initiatives/naloxone or overdoselifeline.org/naloxone-boxes-and-distribution-centers