2019 coroner report shows increase in overdoses, suicides

Clayton Nolting Submitted photo

Staff Reports

Year-end statistics from the Bartholomew County Coroner’s office show an increase in drug overdose deaths and deaths by suicide, along with a concerning increase in the number of infant deaths.

Coroner Clayton Nolting said the coroner’s office works hard to partner with individuals and groups who collect the data to reduce preventable deaths in Bartholomew County.

“Numbers can seem impersonal, but it’s important to remember that each one of these deaths has a story and involves a human being with grieving loved ones,” Nolting said. “Our job is both to work with families to find answers and to help prevent others from being in their shoes.”

Describing the 2019 numbers as “troubling,” Nolting said there were 23 drug overdoses last year, up from 17 drug overdoses in 2018. By gender, the overdose deaths were 14 males and nine females, the report states. In 11 of the 23 drug overdoses, multiple substances were found, and in 14 of the cases, the cause of death involved opioids, the report states.

The coroner’s office found 13 of the overdose cases involved stimulants such as methamphetamine, while eight involved fentanyl or fentanyl analogues and three involved heroin.

There were 16 deaths by suicide in 2019, up from 11 in 2018, according to the coroner’s office. The report states that by gender, 12 males and four females died by suicide last year. Nine of the deaths were caused by a gunshot, and four were caused by hanging, according to the report. Nine of the individuals tested positive for intoxicants at the time of death, with intoxicants described as substances not prescribed or those that can cause intoxication, including alcohol.

Of the 143 total, 35 deaths were listed as accidental and 89 were listed as “natural.”

The office also investigated five infant deaths in 2019, which Nolting described as an unusually high number. Bartholomew County had two coroner’s cases for infant death in 2018 and three in 2017.

Nolting said he is working with Columbus Regional Hospital and other groups and panels around the community to work on educating new parents about safe sleep practices and other precautionary measures that could lower the infant death rate.

The total number of cases investigated by the coroner’s office in 2019 was 143, along with 34 “courtesy cases,” defined as those that involve a coroner staff visit, but perhaps not a full investigation — deaths from natural causes at home can fall into this category.

Under manner of death, two people’s deaths were listed as homicide (the term homicide does not consider intent, it means the killing of one human by another).

There were 35 accidental deaths and 89 natural deaths, according to the report. One death is listed as undetermined.

The coroner’s office is sharing the data with groups such as the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress and Healthy Communities, as well as the Indiana State Department of Health.

“The information provided helps identify current trends and informs public policy,” Nolting said. “It tells our community and our state where we need to focus our resources.”