The number of overdose deaths in Greene County appears to have reached a “status quo” despite efforts from county officials to fight the drug epidemic.
There were 13 overdose deaths in Greene County last year – mostly from fentanyl – which is only a slight drop from 2021, when 16 people died after consuming lethal drugs.
It’s a trend that has held steady in recent years after 12 deaths were reported in 2020 and 14 people died from overdoses in 2019.
“Right now, it’s reached a status quo,” Greene County Coroner Gene Rush said of the annual deaths attributed to drug overdoses.
He blamed the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl manufactured in illegal drug labs for the vast majority of the deaths in recent years. A review of the coroner’s 2022 logbook showed that fentanyl was the main drug found in the bloodstream of nine out of the 13 people who died of overdoses last year.
The county commissioners created the Greene County Opioid Task Force in 2018 as a way to combat the wave of deadly overdoses that hit a record of 19 deaths in 2016. It appeared to pay immediate dividends, as there were only four deaths reported in 2018 as the task force began operations. But Rush is unsure what more the county’s task force can do to combat the opioid problem as the numbers have leveled off.
“The task force is doing what it can do,” Rush said. “The numbers aren’t changing. They’re not changing enough, as far as I’m concerned.”
County Commission Chairman Mike Belding thinks that the task force has made strides in recent years and removed some of the “stigma” associated with addicts seeking treatment. But he said more needs to be done, including offering halfway houses to recovering addicts leaving jail to give them a regimented treatment plan.
“If it’s one thing that’s lacking, it’s to have a halfway house in Greene County and have a pathway to people seeking treatment,” Belding said.
This year, he said the county is hoping to use some of the money from one of the nationwide opioid lawsuit settlements to get the ball rolling, although he acknowledged that they will need to pursue other funding sources to get that project off the ground. He added that the type of halfway house they are envisioning would be different than sober living facilities, several of which opened in the county in recent years but were unsustainable.
“We need a transition place. The county is prepared to put part of our opioid settlement for that. We’re looking for grants,” Belding said. “You need a paid, professional staff trained in mental health and drug and addiction recovery.”