Health experts still investigating Carter County’s drug overdose death rate

Plamedie Ifasso
The Daily Ardmoreite

As the nation begins to slowly open and experts look back at some of the effects of the pandemic, initial data indicate drug overdose deaths rates have risen across the country. Health experts are still researching and finalizing data on overdose deaths in Carter County. 

Lori Lovett, Community Drug Overdose Prevention Project Coordinator for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said the overdose deaths numbers for 2019 through 2020 for Carter County have not yet been finalized and the data she received from her sources are still preliminary. Normally the department reports on the fatal unintentional poisoning surveillance system using the Injury Prevention Service, but for 2020 they had to use a different source, Lovett said. 

“So we don't have 2020 data,” Lovett said. “I don’t think 2019 has even been finalized, but we’re still preliminarily releasing it. 2020 data we’re expecting to see sometime in the fall, so we looked at the vital statistics deaths instead for 2020 numbers. They’re not the same system, so they’re not entirely comparable because they came from different sources.“

Lovett said the initial data she received for Carter County indicate that from 2011 to 2014, there were six methamphetamine overdose deaths, and from 2017 to 2020, the number of meth overdose deaths was 27. Lovett said the preliminary numbers also show that the county has seen a decrease in prescription opioid related overdose deaths and an increase in fentanyl related overdose deaths in 2020. 

“We’re a little behind some of the national numbers on that,” Lovett said. “But it’s made its appearance and we’re really going to start seeing that. In 2020, there were six [fentanyl related overdose deaths] for Carter County, and then the period for 2015 to 2019 there were less than five. So if a number is less than five, we suppress that because that’s usually too small a number the people could identify.” 

Because the data has not been finalized yet, it is too early to predict any trends and that it is going to be a while before experts can theorize on the data, according to Lovett.

“For Carter County, there’s no way of knowing right now because we don’t have the data and the numbers,” Lovett said. “It really has to be over time for you to establish things like what the trends tell us, and why it is happening. That’s all going to be the question people are going to be asking as we move forward.” 

Kevin Bone, Executive Director of Arbuckle Solutions, said while it is still too early to say what the substance abuse trends in the county are, Arbuckle Solutions has seen a lot of self referrals in the past two months. 

“We have a lot more people reaching out for assistance with alcohol or drug related problems,” Bone said. “So we’re seeing more self referrals, and people coming in to do more individual counseling and trying to get back on the right track.”  

Bone said the agency saw a decrease in people coming in towards the beginning of the pandemic, so he knew that number would increase as restrictions loosened.  In order to plan for the client uptick, the center made sure to check what their counselors and staff were comfortable doing. 

“First we have to make sure our staff is willing and able to [do in person sessions],” Bone said. “For the most part, we are in the spot now where we’re pretty comfortable doing individual sessions. The new step is making sure when people come in here we still have masks available if they want to mask up and have other precautions available.”

Bone said as the county and the rest of the nation begins to open back up, he expects even more people to reach out. 

“Some of the studies that I have read shows that nationwide substance abuse and relapse has increased during [the pandemic],” Bone said. “We’re still expecting to see more people reach out due to [COVID] because there are going to be long lasting consequences. There may be some lasting issues that people deal with coming out of COVID as they try to figure out what's the next step to take.”