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County Saw Steep Rise in Opioid-Related Deaths From 2015 to 2016

Sue Ogrocki
AP Photo

Kalamazoo County saw its rate of accidental opioid-related deaths roughly double from 2015 to 2016, says Medical Director Will Nettleton.

“That is quite a significant change,” he told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Nettleton appeared before the Board to summarize the opioid situation in the county. 

He said that approximately 29 people died from accidental opioid overdoses in the county in 2015, but in 2016 that number rose to about 59 people.

He adds that when he first saw the numbers, he thought that either the methodology surrounding those deaths, or the definition of an opioid-related death must have changed. But, he says, it hadn’t.

“On average in 2016 that comes out to be about five opioid-related deaths occurring each month,” he told the Board.

For this year, from the beginning of the year through September, Nettleton says the number has hovered around four opioid-related deaths occurring each month in the county, or about one such death a week.

Nettleton told the board that in 2016, more Kalamazoo County residents died of accidental drug overdoses (both opioid and non-opioid) than died in car crashes.

He said the data indicates that emergency rooms within the county saw approximately 24 cases a month of unintentional opioid-related overdoses in 2016. Of those 24 cases, about 13 would have been for a heroin overdose, and the other 11 were classified as other opioids, he said.

Nettleton cautioned that not all overdoses show up in emergency rooms, and that medical billing codes vary which can make such cases hard to track.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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