LOGAN — Hocking County’s overdose rate is double that of last year, Stacey Sams, a part-time worker for the Hocking County Medical Examiner & Coroner’s office, told the Hocking County Board of Commissioners Thursday.

“Last year we had four to five overdoses; this year we have nine to 10, depending on pending investigations – four in one week,” Sams said.

Data provided by the Hocking County Health Department confirms that nine Hocking County residents have died of overdoses from substances ranging from fentanyl to heroin, to methamphetamine to nondescript “illicit drugs.” The majority of those who have died have been men; the youngest person was 32 years old, the oldest 65. Not all Hocking County residents who have died of drug overdoses died in the county.

Sams presented a letter of request to the board for funding transfers. The coroner’s office is requesting $15,200 to be transferred into its autopsy fund, an amount that will cover the cost of 10 autopsies. Sams also requested $1,500 for transportation of the deceased.

“We are currently at $800 in our budget from the year that we started,” Sams said. “That is because our overdose rate is up in our county.”

A January press release from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office says that more Ohioans died of an opioid overdose during the second quarter of 2020 than at any time since the “opioid epidemic” began, according to an analysis by AG Dave Yost’s task force, the Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention and Education (SCOPE).

According to data from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Hocking had an unintentional overdose death rate of 24.4 per 100,000 people in 2019. That same year, there were five unintentional overdose deaths; 11 in 2018 and eight in 2017.

Last week, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, the commissioners signed a resolution to accept the material terms of the OneOhio Subdivision Settlement, which came out of joint negotiations with drug manufacturers and distributors in a lawsuit over the impacts of opioids. As of Tuesday, Aug. 17, 135 of the 143 litigating local governments suing opioid manufacturers and distributors had signed on to OneOhio – representing more than 96% of the population within the litigating subdivisions. The state is now on the verge of an $808 million settlement, the press release said.

According to the press release, any settlement money will be divided up into three portions: 55% to a foundation created to disburse the money and fund programs that benefit Ohioans affected by opioids and/or prevent addiction; 30% for local community recovery programs; and 15% to the state of Ohio.

The commissioners passed a resolution to enter into the lawsuit around this time four years ago. On Aug. 28, 2017, Resolution #18-2017 declared that “the unlawful distribution of prescription pain pills has created a public nuisance in Hocking County and has caused harm to the residents of Hocking County.”

According to the suit, Hocking County Board of Commissioners (Plaintiff) v. AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc. and McKesson Corporation (Defendants), the county did not seek compensatory damages for death, physical injury to person, emotional distress or physical damage to property.

It did seek damages “necessary to recoup the costs incurred by the county as a result of the nuisances; damages necessary to eliminate the hazard to public health and safety as well abatement of the public nuisance, including both injunctive relief and an abatement fund.”

In other news, on Tuesday the board signed a contract with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office to house Hocking County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) inmates in the Fairfield County Jail.

Board President Jeff Dickerson said the contract was done out of necessity; a shooting occurred and the suspect could not be held in the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail (SEORJ) due to it being at capacity. However, that wasn’t entirely the case, HCSO Chief Deputy of Administration Caleb Moritz told The Logan Daily News.

“Fairfield County has done several ‘courtesy holds’ for us for a while,” Moritz said in a text message, later adding that SEORJ usually runs very close to capacity, like most jails in the state. “Newly elected (Fairfield) Sheriff Lape wanted a contract in place to cover the legal aspects for holding inmates for us. We have several contracts in place with other facilities so that we can use them if needed.”

According to a 2019 report by the Athens News, SEORJ has a maximum capacity of 220 people in the general population areas, 14 “special beds” and 20 holding cells. It holds inmates from Athens, Hocking, Morgan, Perry and Vinton counties.

The next commissioners meeting will be Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Commissioners Chambers at the Hocking County Courthouse, 1 E. Main St. Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the commissioners’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HockingCommissioners/, where they can also be watched at a later date.

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