The Lake County coroner plans to continue pushing for a drug death analyst to collect a wide swath of data on overdoses.
Coroner Merrilee Frey said she is not deterred by a lack of support from the Lake County Council regarding her need for an analyst, who would be responsible for collecting information on the demographics and circumstances around overdoses to help get a handle on the factors behind the opioid issues in Northwest Indiana.
“I would say we are on pace to have 150 to 200 deaths this year. Next year it will be even higher,” Frey said, adding the national opioid epidemic is expected to get worse in the coming years and the steps toward prevention must be taken. In the first three and a half months of the year, 48 people have died from opioid overdoses in Lake County.
The data analyst is only a part of the Prescription for Action Plan the county approved in March. Frey said she plans to bring the position back to the council in May for reconsideration.
Sheriff John Buncich said the drug epidemic in Lake County is destroying the lives of people and their families and it’s important to put programs in place that can help deter those deaths.
“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can,” Buncich said.
Councilman Eldon Strong, R-Crown Point, who led the effort to defeat Frey’s request, splitting the council 4-3 to deny, said he is willing to listen to the coroner’s proposal again with an open mind.
“At the same time I will vote against anything I think is a waste of taxpayer dollars and anything that I feel is redundant,” Strong said.
Strong opposed the position calling it a duplication of services already provided by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force.
HIDTA provides historical data on drug overdose deaths, according to the coroner’s office. The report that will be released in 2017 will provide information from the 2016 fiscal year ending in June 2016.
HIDTA primarily deals with coroners to get information about the death rate, said Indiana HIDTA Executive Director Chuck Porucznik said, and assess what types of substances are contributing to deaths in Indiana.
“We use that for our threat assessment,” Porucznik said, which is then compiled into an annual report.
The threat assessment is used to see what substances, whether heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, are causing the most issues in Indiana, Porucznik said.
Buncich said a threat assessment only goes so far.
“We need an action plan right now,” Buncich said.
Buncich said he’s working with the coroner to work on prevention, education and enforcement efforts to tackle the drug addiction problems, as the numbers of overdose deaths continue to increase each year.
“It’s becoming epidemic proportions,” Buncich said. “When it hits home like this, something’s got to be done.”
The data Frey seeks extends beyond the number of opioid overdose deaths recorded in the county.
The information collected will include…