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Drug overdoses down from last year in Somerset County

December 15, 2018

Somerset County has had 14 drug overdoses this year, down from 31 overdose deaths in 2017. County Coroner Wallace Miller said it’s the leading cause of unnatural deaths here, followed by suicide and accidents.

“I’d love to see less drug abuse,” he said. “It puts a strain on your budget and puts a strain on the family members. It’s a really difficult type of death to deal with. There’s questions and it’s a life interrupted. There’s not much you can say about it. You want to know what happened with that person.

“For me as an investigator, my job is to figure out the cause of death and manner. For the social causes that led to it, I don’t know. But the aftermath is significant for family members and friends. But they continue to do it. Addiction is a strong disease.”

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the average life expectancy in the country fell from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 years in 2018.

“The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a news release. “Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide.”

Miller said diabetes was the biggest threat to society. He said it sets off a chain reaction that creates heart disease, which he said was the leading cause of death in the county.

Overall, Miller dealt with 220 deaths in the past year. He said the average age of overdose for people who took heroin or other opioids usually ranged between the late 30s into the 50s.

“Whenever they get these strong drugs, they don’t get scared away,” Miller said. “They look for it. There is no quality control. So you don’t know what you have or don’t know what you’re introducing into your system until it’s too late. Can a younger person metabolize that better?

“I don’t know. Most of the drug abuse victims we see aren’t in top health. They have issues. A lot of them come out of rehab. A high percentage of them have been in that.”

Miller said the budget issues arise from the state mandating that coroners do autopsies on every drug death because they want to prosecute the people responsible for dealing them the substance.

“People can say, ‘How did you know that they didn’t die of a different cause of death before that?’” Miller said. “There’s 31 autopsies I had to do last year that I normally wouldn’t have to do. If they passed away of something else, they would have been in a hospice.

“But when it’s an unnatural death, the taxpayers have to foot that bill. I don’t know how many drug dealers have been convicted. I know the police do a good job finding them.”

Miller said the current climate is much different than when he started in the business.

“Heroin has been around since I was a kid,” he said. “But you never heard of the fatalities you have now. There were some. But in the early ’80s, if we had one or two, it was a lot. When you see someone 50 or younger, you automatically suspect it.”

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