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African Americans, Hispanics Were 20% of Opioid OD Deaths in Monroe County in 2018; Sheriff Puts Cost to Taxpayers at $6.39 M

Patti Singer

Monroe County Medical Examiner data showed that 195 people in the county died from an opioid-related overdose. Provided photo

The number of people in Monroe County who died from a heroin or fentanyl overdose declined in 2018, according to the Monroe County Medical Examiner.

But a different take on the epidemic shows the financial toll.

Data from the medical examiner showed that 195 people died from heroin/morphine and/or fentanyl and fentanyl analogs last year. Of those, 13.3% were African American and 7.7% were Hispanic.

Nearly 70 percent of the people who died from overdoses were male.

In 2017, the medical examiner determined that 220 people in Monroe County died from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. Of those, 9.1% were African American and 8% were Hispanic.

The medical examiner announced the 2018 data on July 15.

The cost to affected families is immeasurable, but even people who don’t know any of the individuals are paying a price.

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter announced after the county released the death toll that the epidemic cost taxpayers $6.39 million last year.

“This number is astronomical and should shake and anger every taxpayer in Monroe County,” Baxter said in a news release. “Furthermore, it should move and motivate every single one of us to get involved and have a stake in putting an end to this devastating epidemic.”

Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have been frustrated over the past few years with the scope of the epidemic and what some saw as a slow response from county officials.

Locations of overdoses, as reported by law enforcement agencies in Monroe County. Provided by Monroe County Heroin Task Force.

Overdoses have occurred in just about every town. Police agencies chafed that the medical examiner’s office seemed slow to release data. The medical examiner determines the official cause of death and that process can take months.

Police agencies wanted to be able to stamp out what they called hot spots for opioid deals and said they couldn’t wait on the medical examiner.

The delay has been a source of frustration for families, as well, who are forced to wait to get the facts of their loved one’s death. Monroe County has added resources to the medical examiner’s office to speed the process, and last year the county executive announced that the office no longer would do toxicology tests for 12 neighboring counties.

In 2017, law enforcement agencies in Monroe County began tracking suspected opioid deaths at crime scenes.

Because of how the medical examiner and law enforcement agencies parse their data, the police statistics differ from the official data from the medical examiner. In 2017, law enforcement reported 140 fatal overdoses. In 2018, police agencies reported 166 fatal ODs.

Baxter’s office used those 166 fatalities and the 1,133 overdoses recorded by law enforcement in 2018 to come up with the $6.39 million price tag. According to the analysis done by sheriff’s office trainee and RIT student Taylor Alloco, the costs are broken down to:

  • $1,967 for salaries for first-responders and investigators for a non-fatal overdose;
  • $2,000 for a hospital visit for an overdose, knowing that complications increase the cost;
  • $3,870 for a fatal overdose for first responder, investigator and medical examiner office salaries;
  • $1.39 million to jail individuals on drug charges associated with the overdose.

The data in the current medical examiner report does not assign a dollar figure to the cost of analyzing the overdoses.

The report refers only to those individuals who died in Monroe County, for whom the cause of death was specifically attributed to the substances involved, according to a news release announcing the numbers.

The deaths do not include those in which the substances were present but the cause of death was attributed to some traumatic injury, such as driving under the influence of drugs leading to a fatal crash. It also does not include cases from other counties that were investigated by the
Monroe County Office of the Medical Examiner, or cases attributed to overdose on prescription opioids in the absence of heroin/morphine or fentanyl/analogs.

Fentanyl has superseded heroin/morphine frequency in drug mixtures leading to overdose deaths.

Fentanyl/analogs were present in 94.4% of these heroin/morphine/fentanyl deaths in 2018 up slightly from 91.8% in 2017. Heroin/morphine, in contrast, were only detected in 30.8% of these cases — down from 42.3% in 2017. Variable monthly rates of heroin/fentanyl fatalities are likely due (in part) to changing availability, potency and/or composition of drugs on the street. The availability of heroin and heroin substitutes varies by region.

The analysis also identifies other substances may have played and role and were listed in the cause of death. Among those substances, cocaine was present in 99 of the deaths, alcohol in 43, benzodiazepines in 36 and prescription opioids in 26.