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FINDING HOPE: Fatal drug overdoses becoming routine at Ada Co. Coroner's Office

FINDING HOPE: Fatal drug overdoses becoming routine at Ada Co. Coroner's Office
Posted at 5:12 AM, Jun 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-20 07:42:35-04

BOISE, Idaho — Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens has been very outspoken about her efforts to educate the community about the increasing number of deadly drug overdoses happening in the Treasure Valley.

"We're so used to seeing these in the office, it's just like an everyday norm for us," Owens said. "I hate to say that."

Each case is thoroughly investigated through toxicology testing to determine a cause of death, and instead of strictly prescription pill overdoses, the county's seeing a growing trend of deaths due to multiple drugs.

"And that's what's interesting to me; that it's not just one flat drug at this point," Owens explained. "We're seeing multiples, so methamphetamine with a gamut of other things that they're taking, or heroin with a list of other things that they're taking."

What was once a rare reason for the coroner's office to make that dreaded knock on the door, is becoming more common.

"We had a family member comment several months back that this was the second time we'd been to their house in a year," Owens said. "The time before we'd picked up the mother of the household, and this time we were picking up the juvenile."

Some cases are surprising, including a recent elderly couple in their 70s - both found after fatal overdoses with methamphetamine in their systems.

"One is too many, so we need to get to the point where we're educating the public on what we're seeing, what's going on," Owens said. "We keep an eye on if there's any excessive prescribing, we're still watching that pretty closely."

So how common is it? In 2018, 90 people died in Ada County solely from drug overdoses. Drug-related deaths topped 140. "That could cover instances like a motorcycle accident because they were intoxicated on whatever the drug was in their system," Owens explained.

So far, Owens expects a similar outcome by the end of 2019, but at the least, she hopes to help educate the community about concerns of mixing certain medications.

"If we're starting to see an uptick in combinations, we need to start educating somewhere that you shouldn't be taking these and drinking alcohol, or you shouldn't be taking this certain combination of medications."

As 6 On Your Side has reported, the coroner's office is also being impacted by increasing suicide rates in the county.

The coroner's office is working to get all of this information up on their website over the next few months. At that point, anyone can log online and see live updates on the number of suicides in the county, fatal overdoses, the demographic involved, and what kinds of drugs were used.