SOUTH BEND — Following an all-time high in drug overdose deaths in Indiana in 2017, things improved in 2018 as the state saw a 26 percent decrease in total deaths.

Roughly 1,355 people died of a drug overdose in the state in 2018, down from the 1,840 people in 2017, according to provisional data collected by the Indiana State Department of Health. St. Joseph and surrounding counties also saw significant decreases after the 2017 spike. St. Joseph County had 59 overdose deaths last year, a 15 percent decrease. LaPorte County saw the biggest decrease in the area, dropping 44 percent to 16 deaths in 2018.

While these totals include overdose deaths from all types of drugs, the majority involved some kind of opioid. Nearly 70 percent of St. Joseph County’s deaths resulted from an opioid. Not only are overdose deaths decreasing, but the number of doses of the overdose-reversing drug, naloxone, that South Bend emergency responders are administering is down, said Andy Myer, assistant chief of EMS.

In 2017, South Bend EMS administered 494 doses of naloxone, more commonly known by the brand name Narcan. Last year, EMS administered 413 doses. The start of 2019 is also down from the past two years. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 27 this year, 34 doses were administered. There were 59 doses in 2018 and 66 in 2017 for the same time span.

Myer expects part of the decrease is because more regular citizens carry Narcan and are using it. He didn’t have exact numbers, but said there are calls where EMS arrives and a lay person has already administered Narcan.

“It’s still a good thing,” Myer said, “because it’s still saving lives.”

The dip, however, doesn’t mean there are fewer drugs on the street, said David Wells, commander of the county’s Drug Investigation Unit. The unit actually opened more cases in 2018 than in the previous year, he said. The DIU had 121 new cases last year, up from 95 in 2017. Those cases include investigations into both overdose deaths and violent armed drug trafficking.

Wells said they are still taking large quantities of heroin and meth off the street. He declined to give examples because they involve ongoing investigations, but said the prevalence of opioids is not decreasing the amount of other drugs on the street. If anything it’s increasing, he said, as many people will use meth with heroin because heroin is a downer while meth is an upper.

Raising awareness

Wells and Myer both attributed some of the decline in overdose deaths to a growing understanding of the dangers of opioids as well as an increasing number of pill drops in the area, many which are organized by Becky Savage and the 525 Foundation.

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