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Posted: 05/21/14

Drug deaths on the rise
in Macomb County

Observer Staff Writer
      The number of deaths related to drug use in Macomb County has risen by 33 percent.
       This and other findings were presented in the Macomb County Medical Examiner's 2013 annual report earlier this month, showing an increase in deaths involving heroin and prescription drugs.
       According to Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Spitz's report, drug-related deaths in the county rose from 184 in 2012 to 244. Of them, heroin deaths -- those involving heroin only or a combination of heroin with other drugs -- increased by 28 percent from 2012 to 95.
       Deaths involving prescription drugs increased by 36 percent to 105.
       County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said drug problems can be found in northern Macomb County communities, but it has been a growing problem throughout the county for the past five years.
       "I don't think any community is immune from it," he said. "It's really getting a lot more attention and we're trying to address it."
       Judge Denis LeDuc of the 42-1 District Court in Romeo said the report's findings are disturbing, but are also in line with the cases he deals with in the courtroom.
       "I am alarmed at Dr. Spitz's report, but it is very consistent with what we're seeing here in our own community," he said. "It should be attention-getting for every citizen."
       The 42-1 District Court is working with county and state officials to expand its operations as a drug and sobriety court in 2015, which would enhance probation, counseling and testing of drug offenders.
       Romeo Community Schools Superintendent Nancy Campbell said people who believe that drugs are not in high school or even the middle schools are incorrect in their thinking.
       "The best thing we can do is educate people about the harmful effects of drugs," she said. "We can't have our head under a rock and think they're not here."
       She said the district has drug-detecting K-9 units from the sheriff's office do random sweeps through buildings. She said the most recent sweep of Romeo High School or the Romeo Engineering and Technology Center didn't find anything, but the dogs did detect the presence of drugs.
       "We still call the parents when there is a hit, even if we didn't find anything," Campbell said.
       When tracking the cause of death, the report indicates the number of accidental deaths related to drugs rose 32 percent to 195.
Report findings

       The total number of deaths in the county has reached an all-time high of 8,246, which Spitz said is consistent with a population that chooses to "age in place."
       The medical examiner's office conducted 2,122 death investigations, a 10 percent increase from 2012.
       The number of homicides went from seven to 12 in 2013, a 71 percent increase. However, homicides in general are on the decline, as the number is down from 14 in 2011 and 19 in 2010.
       Jumps in natural deaths, suicides and accidents were also reported. A 22 percent increase in suicides was seen, rising to 115 in 2013. The leading causes of death for suicides was gunshot wounds (54) and asphyxia (31).
       Not all the news in the report was unpleasant. The examiner's office referred 365 deaths to the Gift of Life Organ and Tissue Procurement Agency and Michigan Eye Bank. This resulted in 24 tissue donors and 46 cornea donors.
       According to the report, this was the most referrals and generated the most tissue and cornea than any other county in Michigan.
       Other findings included the following:
       - The total number of autopsies increased by 13 percent to 648. Of them, 531 were complete autopsies, 29 were limited and 88 were external examinations.
       - Home hospice deaths increased 10 percent to 2,046, accounting for 25 percent of all county deaths.
       - Cremation permit authorizations rose by 7 percent to 3,598. Cremation accounts for dealing with nearly 50 percent of all deaths in the county.
       - The medical examiner's office submitted an application to the National Association of Medical Examiners for accreditation documentation. A site visit is expected in the near future.

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