The number of homicides and overdose deaths so far in 2018 is slightly lower than the figure from Lake and Porter counties at the same time last year, area coroners said.
But Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris and Lake County Coroner Merrilee Frey said they expected the number of drug overdose deaths to continue increasing.
“We’re going to continue seeing what we’ve been seeing,” Harris said after returning from an overdose scene this week.
As of Wednesday, Porter County has had 18 drug overdoses so far in 2018, Harris said. In 2017, there were 52 total drug-related deaths, and 43 of those involved opiates, he said.
Like last year, heroin has been a primary factor in the overdose deaths in 2018, Harris said, but “we’re starting to see cocaine start to be a player again.”
Harris said he’s also seen overdoses this year related to alcohol and one from generic Viagra, he said.
As the year continues, Harris said he expects numbers to be “on par to match” last year’s numbers.
Harris and Frey said they are still waiting on some pending toxicology reports from overdoses.
While the year is only halfway through, Frey said that “for the first time, I think it may be safe to say that we may see a decrease in our overdose-related deaths for 2018” in Lake County.
Lake County has recorded 62 overdose deaths as of late May, Frey said. By around that time last year, Lake County had 75 overdoses with a total of 195 in 2017, according to Frey’s office.
Of the deaths in 2017, 44 involved heroin, 62 involved fentanyl, 13 involved cocaine and 76 were the result of multiple other drugs, Frey said. So far in 2018, 12 involved heroin, 20 involved fentanyl, two involved cocaine and 28 involved multiple other drugs, she said.
“According to the experts, this increase of overdose deaths was to continue to rise over the next few years, however, I believe in Lake County — with our efforts — we are beginning to see a positive difference,” Frey said.
“I truly believe the awareness efforts that I have been working on as well as others within our community are beginning to make a positive difference,” she said.
Frey said she will continue to send out the message that “opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hyrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and heroin kills.”
Porter County has recorded zero homicides as of Wednesday in 2018, Harris said. Last year, the county had a total of three homicides.
Lake County has had at least 30 homicides in 2018 as of Sunday, according to Frey’s office. At the same time last year, Lake County recorded 34 homicides.
Last year, there were 73 homicides in Lake County, with another eight from Illinois, bringing a total of 81 homicides in 2017, Frey said.
“It is likely that our homicide numbers will be close to what we had last year in 2017,” Frey said.
Two of the homicides in 2018 have come from murder-suicides, releases from the coroner’s office show. Sheretha Stevens, 43, was killed May 16 in Merrillville, while Nicole Mendez, 40, was found shot April 29 in Hobart, records show.
David Anderson, 11, was fatally shot May 5 while playing basketball at Nunez Park inn East Chicago. He later died at Comer’s Children Hospital in East Chicago, and the Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide.
Sherquell Magee, 17, pleaded not guilty last month after he was charged as an adult in Lake Superior Court with murder, attempted murder and attempted battery by means of a deadly weapon in connection with Anderson’s death.
The first recorded homicide of the year in Lake County was Edward Norwood, 56. Police found Norwood dead Jan. 1 in a bedroom of his Gary home in the 3600 block of Johnson Street during a welfare check, court records show.
James Jackson-Burnett, 27, was charged with murder and is accused of killing Norwood between Dec. 31 and New Year’s Day, according to court records.