Accidental drug overdose deaths double in Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, MI — Accidental drug overdoses more than doubled last year in Kalamazoo County, a problem familiar to many communities across the country.

According to an annual report from the Office of the Medical Examiner, accidental drug-related deaths increased from 33 to 72 between 2015 and 2016. More people died of from unintentionally overdosing on drugs than from motor vehicle accidents in Kalamazoo County last year.

“This significant change in the opioid epidemic in our community requires a multi-sector, coordinated and targeted response,” said Dr. William Nettleton, Medical Director of Kalamazoo County Health & Community Services. “We are working together with community partners to reverse the tide of opioid-related deaths.”

Overdoses accounted for one-third of all accidental deaths in 2016. This figure remained relatively steady since 2011, but drastically increased last year.

Figures were not available for some years. (Source: Office of the Medical Examiner) 

Eight out of 10 of these deaths involved an opioid. The opioid-related accidental death rate increased from 11 to 22 per 100,000 Kalamazoo County residents.

Opioids include prescription medications like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin. When taken alone and particularly with other drugs, including prescription medications, opioids can stop a person’s breathing and result in a deadly overdose.

Fifteen people were under the age of 30 when they died of an overdose.

Nettleton stressed that addiction is not a moral defect.

“It is a long-term, relapsing and all-too-often deadly disease of the brain that affects not only the lives of addicted individuals – but their families and relationships as well,” he said.

Signs of opioid overdose include extreme sleepiness, slow or absent breathing, very small eye pupils and skin color turning blue.

Those who suspect an overdose are asked to call 911 immediately. Individuals who possess illegal controlled substances are protected from criminal drug charges if they are seeking medical attention for themselves or someone else.

Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid and prevent a deadly overdose, is covered by Medicaid and many other insurances and is available without a prescription at the following pharmacies:

  • Rite Aid, 1032 E Cork St. Kalamazoo (269)344-0131
  • OptiMed Pharmacy, 1000 Oakland Dr., Kalamazoo (269) 337-6330
  • Sanus Speciality Pharmacy, 2401 Gull Rd., Suite 1, Kalamazoo (269)775-7450
  • Portage Pharmacy, 7966 Lovers Ln., Portage (269) 327-0033
  • Fred’s Super Pharmacy Inc., 121 W. Prairie St., Vicksburg (269) 649-0660

Naloxone kits are also available through the Southwest Michigan Chapter of FAN (Families Against Narcotics) at 269-580-8290.

Any individual, who feels they need help with substance abuse issues can contact the Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services’ Access Center at (269) 373-6000 or (888) 373-6200.

Medicaid patients may also access substance abuse services in Kalamazoo County by calling Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health’s access line at (800)-781-0353.

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