ELYRIA — On the heels of a massive federal drug sweep that saw the arrest of 19 Elyria residents accused of pushing crack cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, fentanyl analogues and powder cocaine into neighborhoods, numbers from the Elyria Police Department show a reduction in drug overdoses in the city.
However, officials are not conceding that the lower numbers mean Elyria has seen the worst of the opioid epidemic.
Police Chief Duane Whitely said investigators so far this year have looked into 61 overdoses, which includes 14 overdose deaths. Last year, Elyria saw 213 total overdoses with 33 reported deaths.
If the rate stays consistent, Whitely said, Elyria could see between 120 and 150 overdoses by the end of the year.
Whitely cautioned putting too much weight on the numbers because “one weekend will change that,” he said. “It is still pretty early on in the reporting process.”
The announcement of last month’s federal investigation, which culminated with a 59-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, spells out an intricate drug operation where dealers moved drugs from South Carolina to Ohio and used multiple Elyria addresses as drug havens. The indictment offered a glimpse into the actions of the dealers and those police say are responsible for selling harmful drugs in the city.
Yet, on the other side, there are the users, and police suspect that dozens of them will likely die this year.
“The opioid program is not solved,” said Lorain County Coroner Dr. Stephen Evans. “We need to double of efforts to educate and treat because this is not going away.”
Evans said Lorain County as a whole is mimicking Elyria with a reported reduction in overdose deaths.
“Yes, we are down a little bit, but the numbers we are seeing are still not good,” he said.
Evans said Lorain County, if the death rate stays consistent through December, could see 100 overdose deaths this year.
“It kind of comes and goes in waves,” he said. “In January, I had so many of them I thought we were going to see hundreds.”
Whitely said there could be a number of explanations including less potent drugs on the streets or more access to naloxone, the antidote designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses.
“The fear is in wondering if it is just a short-term drop,” he said. “If we let our guards down, we know the thing with this is it will just creep back up.”
County officials continue to look into the first half of the year numbers for context, said Christine Robinson, director of program services for the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services Board of Lorain County.
“I would say take those number with a bit of caution,” she said. “The community is working hard in collaboration to address the epidemic and we can’t necessarily say what is causing this drop in numbers, but we will continue to work toward getting people the treatment and recovery they need and ensuring the availability of naloxone is a part of this.”
Still, Evans said triple digit deaths due to drugs in 2018 should not be celebrated even if the numbers are less than reported in 2016 or 2017.
“With our best case scenario, we will have 100 people dead this year,” he said. “If you look at 2000 to 2009, we averaged 12 deaths a year so 100 people is still eight times higher than historically we should see.”
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