Officials say three deaths suspected to be drug-related

There were three deaths on Tuesday, which officials believe could be drug-related.

It will be three to four weeks before toxicology reports are returned, said Boyle County Coroner Don Hamner, who confirmed the three deaths.

Hamner wouldn’t release names, but said the three individuals were about 33, 35, and 43. He agreed that it’s safe to say none are expected to be deaths due to natural causes.

While officials and families of the dead have to wait to find out the final cause, Hamner said they look at the person’s history; look the environment in which they are found and the objects found around them; and talk to the family.

“Sometimes the family is aware and sometimes they aren’t,” he said. 

Hammer said they don’t state a cause of death until the toxicology information has returned.

Boyle County Sheriff Derek Robbins agreed.

“The people that have died have a history. But it’s not fair to make assumptions that’s what it was,” he said. “How often do you have three 30-40 year old people die on the same night that have the same history? It’s probably not a coincidence, but it could be.”

If it is due to drug use, Robbins and Danville Police Chief Tony Gray said it’s possible there could be a “bad batch” of the drugs going around, referring to what goes into the heroin. The “bad batches” typically have more than just heroin — like fentanyl or carfentanil.

“It’s unpredictable. It could be 10 (deaths), it could be none for the next six months,” Robbins said. “That’s what makes it so hard to combat, that you don’t know. You don’t know what you’re taking, you don’t know who’s selling it.

“It’s tough.”

As an example, Gray pointed to Richmond, which recently had a rash of nine overdoses in 12 hours. It has turned around since.

Sometimes, the deaths come in “spurts,” and that’s what gets the public’s attention, Robbins said. But those aren’t the only deaths that occur, a sign of the ongoing problem.

“The spurts are what get your attention. There are people that die — maybe one every so often. When you have two or three in one night — there’s no way to tell if it’s a bad batch — when you have three die at one time, people go, ‘We’ve got a problem,’” Robbins said. “We’ve had a problem. It just goes undetected a lot of times.”

For the law enforcement agencies, tackling the problem together is becoming the closest to a solution.

“(The fight against heroin) has brought our two agencies closer together, which has needed to happen for a long time,” Robbins said of his office and the Danville Police Department.

“Individually, I don’t have the resources. Tony doesn’t have the resources. We can pool what we’re doing together,” Robbins said. “We can exhaust every resource to do what we can … There’s no ‘right’ answer to fixing a problem. You use what you’ve got the best you can.”

There’s a fine line for law enforcement, where drug users are concerned, Robbins said. While it’s widely agreed that the users need help, Gray and Robbins point out that they also have to follow the law and users are breaking the law.

“If I arrest a user, and they don’t overdose that night, I may have saved their life. That’s how we have to look at it. That’s how we’re making a difference,” Robbins said. “I can’t make someone quit using. But I can be a deterrent for them.”

“Even if we save five, six, seven people and get them off of it, I’m sure their families appreciate that,” he said.

There are things that make catching the drug dealers extra tough, Gray said, things that people don’t always think about. For starters, a user can’t buy from just anyone, especially in smaller communities like Danville.

“They have a circle of people that they deal with,” Robbins said. “They don’t want to get busted.”

“That’s exactly right,” Gray said.

That caution helps keep those dealers a step ahead. Continually moving, changing the drop locations, doing so in places that are unsuspected, even right in the open — these are maneuvers sellers use to keep law enforcement off their tracks.

“They’re hiding in plain sight,” Robbins said, explaining that drug deals will often occur in public places, such as inside stores.

“There’s not a switch you can flip and just find a solution to it. They evolve to try to keep from being caught and we have to evolve to try and catch them,” he said.

It’s important for the public to speak up, they said.

“The community is doing a good job, you’ve got groups raising awareness,” Gray said. “They’re supportive of us, law enforcement, and our efforts. I think that’s good.”

“The more awareness and the more of the community you can get to come out — in those big cities, they’ll tell you how they beat some of those issues. It was lot more community support, driving those dealers out,” Gray said. “You’ve got more and more people standing up saying, ‘No more.’ They’re calling in and giving us information.

“They’re taking ownership.”

“That’s what’s going to have to happen,” Robbins said. “Law enforcement can’t do it (alone).”

For community agencies like the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, the news of more deaths is disheartening in the fight against drugs and for the lives of drug users.

“We feel so bad for these families and friends,” said Kathy Miles, coordinator for Boyle County ASAP.

Miles said it was important to spread the message of speaking up.

“If you know something about dealers or possible leads, please report it,” Miles said. “If you suspect someone is having a possible overdose, call quickly.” 

She reiterated the Good Samaritan Law, which was established in Senate Bill 192 in 2015 and gives those also using drugs coverage from liability if they report when a fellow user is overdosing.

She was quick to point out options, such as getting naloxone kits, which are often available to those with insurance and are free at some pharmacies.

ASAP is also able to help people seeking treatment, Miles said — she received two calls on Wednesday regarding people wanting to go into treatment.

“I wish there was more,” she said. “We’re trying to be confident and hopeful, but we’re concerned.” 

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.

SO YOU KNOW

There will be a Substance Abuse Resource event from 2-6 p.m. on March 14, sponsored by Families Into Getting Help Together (FIGHT) along with the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, at the Danville Church of God at 516 S. Fourth St. 

There will be representatives from treatment abuse facilities, insurance companies, support groups, and more to answer questions. There will also be presentations and door prizes, as well as a Kid’s Corner. Learn more at www.facebook.com/events/969740016461263/