EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A southwest Indiana county is seeing a sharp increase in drug overdose deaths this year.

Vanderburgh County Coroner Steve Lockyear told the Evansville Courier & Press that 55 people have died from overdoses so far this year, compared to last year’s overall total of 50 deaths.

The deaths have been attributed to methamphetamine, heroin, prescription medication and other drugs. There has been a decrease in the number of heroin and fentanyl related deaths, but the number of methamphetamine deaths has increased, Lockyear said.

“We’re trying to track them the best we can so we can give treatment centers, law enforcement and such the tools they need to go out and combat this,” Lockyear said.

Lockyear said the victims have ranged in age from 22 to 81. Six of the deaths this year have been ruled suicides.

Vanderburgh County has about 180,000 residents. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates it’s the largest county in southwestern Indiana and the eighth most-populous among the state’s 92 counties.

“I don’t think this is something that is picky. It doesn’t discriminate,” said Sen. Jim Merritt, who has supported legislation in Indiana to fight the opioid epidemic. “This epidemic is incredibly pervasive. It is in small towns, it’s in large towns, it’s everywhere.”

The coroner also said his office is seeing more people die with a combination of drugs in their blood. Combining substances can intensify their effects and make them more deadly, Lockyear said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic pain medication that can be up to 100 times as powerful as morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It becomes much more potent when combined with another drug, such as heroin or cocaine.

Local emergency responders have been carrying naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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