Coroner spots alarming trend in death cases

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The number of drug-related deaths in Barry County are on the rise, according to Barry County Coroner Skip White. In 2007, White responded to more drug-related deaths than he has responded to in over 15 years as county coroner.

"People should be afraid to use drugs in Barry County, and they are not," said White. "Part of the problem is that some drugs are legal. There are usually a lot of prescription drugs found around a drug-related death."

Although he does not retain statistics related to causes of death, White was overwhelmed by the number of needless drug-related deaths he saw over the last year.

"There were a lot more drug deaths in 2007 than deaths related to alcohol abuse,"?said White. "I'm not saying it is alright to drink and drive. I just don't think a lot of people understand how bad drugs are in Barry County."

Although the drug user is to blame for his or her own actions, White would like to see changes made in the local community to decrease the number of deaths associated with drug use.

"I would like to make sure those deaths were not in vain," said White. "Did they use and take the drugs? Yes, but I would still like to see us learn from that and try to help someone else in the same situation.

"The average person doesn't realize what a mixture of drugs can do to their body," said White. "When you mix those drugs together you get a lethal substance that your physical body can't take."

Drug use often complicates pre-existing health conditions, which can cause fatalities, said White.

"It is not one particular drug that is a problem. It is a lot of different drugs," said White. "It is surprising to me how easily people are able to get these drugs."

If a prescription vial with a patient's name is found at the scene of a death, White often speaks with the physician and pharmacist who filled the prescription regarding the incident.

"It is hard to control what someone does with a legal prescription drug," said White. "There are people out there who can get them and save them up and sell them to others. I don't know what to do about that except make life so uncomfortable for those who are trading or selling drugs in our county that they want to do it somewhere else."

White has spoken to Louis Metz, of Sater Pharmacy, concerning prescription drug abuse on several occasions.

"Louis goes beyond what is required of a pharmacist," said White. "If he suspects a problem, he will call the doctor or talk to the person. He goes beyond what he has to do to try to help someone he feels might be abusing."

Metz has been the guest speaker at several public meetings to discuss prescription drug abuse.

"There are people with low pain tolerance that need pain medication," said Metz. "Then there are people with high pain tolerance that don't need medication who ask for it. The doctors don't want to deny the patient medication if it is needed, but when a patient's medication is found on another person there should be consequences."

Metz cited one instance where a local police department confiscated several hundred bottles of prescription medications from one individual.

"I don't feel the doctors are doing anything wrong by prescribing the medication and the pharmacist is not doing anything wrong by filling the prescription," said Metz. "The problem lies with the patient who is using the drug as a cash crop."

Metz believes law enforcement should be tougher on the individual whose medication is found in another person's possession.

"That's where the crime is committed," said Metz. "Persons who commit illegal actions should have to pay the price for those actions.

"I have major concerns that these medications are making their way into the schools and people who shouldn't have access to them do," said Metz. "I spoke at a program a few years ago and I said then that many kids are also getting these drugs from their parents, their grandparents and their friends' parents."

As White has watched the number of drug-related deaths increase over the last year, he said he can't help but worry about his own family.

"I know every county has a drug problem, but I'm not worried about every county," said White. "We need to do something now because this problem is beginning to affect every family. We need to take a stand in Barry County and say we are going to do something about the problem here."

White would like to see a group of concerned citizens form an organization to discuss ways to combat drug use and promote drug use prevention across Barry County.

"There needs to be a group of concerned citizens stand up and say we don't want this in Barry County and we are willing to do whatever we need to do to stop it," said White. "Maybe a focus group could even have some suggestions that could help law enforcement."

White said he would be interested in discussing the local drug problem and possible community outreach programs with any interested individual or group.

"To the overall good citizen, the most dangerous thing to do today is talk on a phone while driving," said White. "Drugs are far more dangerous than people realize and the problem is not getting better. It is getting worse."

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