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PRESS PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS  Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim talks to attendees at the Communities That Care annual meeting in Whitehall Dec. 4. Grim discussed deaths related to drugs and alcohol. PRESS PHOTO BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim talks to attendees at the Communities That Care annual meeting in Whitehall Dec. 4. Grim discussed deaths related to drugs and alcohol.

Communities That Care

Thursday, December 11, 2014 by JOHANNA S. BILLINGS jbillings@tnonline.com in Local News

Do not flush unused drugs, Coroner Scott Grim warns

Don't flush unused drugs down the toilet.

The approved method of disposing of unwanted or unused over-the-counter and prescription drugs is through area police departments, Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said.

He spoke on drug-related deaths at the Communities That Care annual meeting Dec. 4 in Whitehall.

"I think it's prevented a lot of deaths through overdose," Grim said of medicine collection boxes at police departments and the county's participation in National Take Back Day. "I think [District Attorney] Jim [Martin] and law enforcement should be commended for that project."

Martin, who also attended the meeting, said police departments empty the medicine collection boxes as needed and store the drugs in a secure location. The county collects the drugs quarterly.

"When we collect them, we transport them to Berks County and destroy them in the incinerator," Martin said.

"You don't want to flush them down the toilet. It's not good for the environment."

Grim said his office collects and destroys medications from the homes of people who die in Lehigh County so the unused drugs are not sold or otherwise abused.

It is not unusual for someone to become addicted to prescribed pain medications following surgery or an illness.

"And then when it runs out or their medical insurance doesn't cover it any longer, yes they are referring back to the street drugs … It's so much cheaper," Grim said.

"It's cheaper to buy heroin on the streets than it is to buy Percocet," Martin said.

Grim said heroin can be purchased for about $20 a bag versus $20 a tablet for name brand pain medications.

People who die by drug overdoses die from a mixture of prescription and illicit drugs, he said.

"They'll take some of the antidepressants and use it with crack, cocaine or heroin," Grim said.

As of Nov. 30, a total of 69 people died by drug overdoses in Lehigh County, according to statistics presented by Grim. Another 69 died by suicide.

Grim said his office looks at the whole person as well as the circumstances surrounding a death in order to determine if a drug overdose was an accident or suicide. Of course, not all suicides are done with drugs.

The coroner's office began tracking drug overdoses in 2011 after noticing the numbers were increasing.

In general, the typical drug overdose involves a middle-aged white man, though drug overdoses affect both genders and other races.

In 2011, for example, out of 86 drug related deaths, 52 were male and 34 were female. By race, 69 were white, three were black, 13 were Hispanic and one was Asian.

One of the saddest statistics from 2011 was one death in the age 0-9 age group.

"This was a child from Bethlehem who became a heroin addict by his parents and died," Grim said.

Only one death fell in the ages 10 to 19 years old category. The numbers rose from there with 14 deaths in the 20 to 29 age group, 21 deaths in the 30 to 39 age group, 27 deaths in the 40 to 49 age group and 14 in the 50 to 59 age group. Another eight deaths came from those aged 60 and older.

In 2012, 44 males and 35 females died for a total of 79 deaths with drug-related causes. Most of them, 67, were white, with another three black, eight Hispanic and one Asian.

Broken down by age, two deaths occurred in the 10-19 age group. Grim says those in their late teens are the most likely to die from drug-related causes.

A total of 18 people died in the 20-29 age group, 19 in the 30-39 age group, 17 between 40-49; 16 in the 50-59 age group and seven for those ages 60 and older.

"We spiked a little bit in 2013 with 91 [deaths]," Grim said.

The males accounted for 57 of those deaths and females, 34. Again, the majority, or 76, were white. Three were black and 10 were Hispanics.

No drug related deaths occurred among Asians in Lehigh County in 2013, Grim said.

Three people died in the 10-19 age range, 18 between 20-29, 18 in the 30-39 age group, 27 between ages 40-49, 22 in the 50 to 59 age group and three for those aged 60 and above.

Grim noted he has seen drug-related deaths in people in their 80s.

As of Nov. 30, drug-related deaths tallied 69.

"This number could go as high as 80," Grim said. "We have 27 cases pending toxicology results. And we still have this month to go.

"It could take anywhere up to 10 to 14 weeks to get toxicology results back.

"So that number could increase over the next couple months."

In 2014 so far, 53 males and 16 females died from drug-related deaths. A total of 57 were white; five were black; six were Hispanic; and one was Asian.

The breakdown is one death in the 10-19 age range, 15 for ages 20-29 , 18 between ages 30-39; 17 in the 40-49 age group, 15 in the 50-59 age range; and three in the age 60 and older range.