Dr. Lisa Deranek, county coroner, told Medina County commissioners Tuesday that drug overdose deaths have declined.
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MEDINA — Dr. Lisa Deranek, Medina County’s coroner, said overdose deaths have fallen since last year.
In an update to county commissioners Tuesday on the drug epidemic, Deranek said there were 18 overdose deaths from January to July in 2016, and 23 deaths in the same period in 2017. In the first seven months of this year, there were nine overdose deaths.
“Part of it is Narcan use and how readily available it is for drug users and their families,” Deranek said. “Another (reason) is illicit drug use is changing. Drug users are going back to methamphetamine vs. heroin.”
She said drug users are combining heroin and methamphetamine or amphetamines.
“Heroin causes a decrease in the respiratory rate and a decrease in the heart rate,” Deranek said. “That’s why a person ultimately dies. They stop breathing.
“The methamphetamine does the opposite. It keeps the heart going at a faster rate and it keeps the person breathing until the heroin wears off. So, they are mixing (those drugs). It’s still Russian roulette because you don’t know what you’re going to get. It’s improving the outcome because not as many people are dying.”
With drug use, however, trends are “unpredictable.”
“It might spike again. They are saying the drug cartel is flooding our country with methamphetamine. It’s very cheap to produce it down in Mexico. It’s a lot harder to produce it up here.
“They are also bringing in a lot more cocaine. They are mixing it with fentanyl to get more people addicted. All bets are off. I don’t know if we’ll have another spike in overdose deaths. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Overall, she said, her caseload is down compared with last year.
“Last year was a high-traffic death (toll),” Deranek said. “There were eight traffic deaths. To date, there have been only three.”
So far this year, she said she has investigated 74 cases. There also were 179 cases where bodies were released from nursing homes, hospitals and doctors and no investigation was needed.
“When we go out to the scene to see the decedent, by looking at the area, talking to the family and examining the body, a lot of times I can determine the cause of death,” she said.
“I’m 90 percent sure and we don’t have to send them for an autopsy.
“Only when it’s a very young person, a pediatric person or a homicide, do we send the bodies up to Cuyahoga County for an autopsy.”
She said there were three pediatric deaths in July — two in the county and one drowning victim who died at Akron Children’s Hospital.
She said when she took office in 2016, she assumed 21 pending autopsy cases from the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office. Now, she said, there are six pending autopsies.
Looking toward the future, she said it might make sense to add a vehicle to transport bodies.
“Our county is exploding with population,” Deranek said. “(Some) are estimating that we’ll be over 200,000 by the 2020 Census.
“I’m thinking ahead. I’m wondering if we as an office can purchase our own transport vehicle to transport bodies. Wayne County is a smaller county than us, but they do transport their own bodies.”
She said just one funeral home, Hilliard Rospert, will transport bodies for the coroner’s office to the morgue or to Cuyahoga County.
“As this community gets larger, it might be too much to put on them solely,” Deranek said.
“I’m trying to be proactive. The county is growing. I’m trying to grow the office. I’d like to bring more part-time investigators onboard. As a whole, we’ve come a long way since I’ve taken office.”
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