While the number of Wayne County deaths attributed to an overdose of drugs in 2015 is not yet finalized, the figures available now show a 50 percent increase, the health commissioner said.

Nick Cascarelli shared with members of the board of health the 18 overdose deaths so far in 2015. Of those, 17 were opiate-related. In 2014, Wayne County recorded 12 overdose deaths.

Luke Reynolds, an investigator for Coroner Dr. Amy Jolliff, said 2015 was a busy year.

“I felt we were drawing blood and sending it to toxicology” all the time, Reynolds said.

The office handled 326 calls, and it resulted in 110 investigations. In 2014, there were 290 calls and 84 investigations.

The number of overdoses has not been finalized for 2015 because Jolliff is still awaiting the results of some toxicology reports from end-of-the-year deaths, Reynolds said.

These kinds of deaths attracted more attention in 2003, when the Ohio Department of Health started tracking them, Cascarelli said. The numbers here have been generally trending upward.

By tracking the deaths, there has been a focus on addressing overdoses. Part of the solution to dealing with the problem has been the introduction of Narcan kits. ODH’s goal has been for local communities to become more engaged in dealing with opiate use and abuse, Cascarelli said.

Medway Drug Enforcement Agency was the first in Wayne County to be certified to use the kits, which administer nasal dosages of the drug naloxone. The drug can reverse the effects of heroin overdoses within minutes, and several first responders have reported saving lives with the kit.

In March, the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Wayne & Holmes Counties reallocated $10,000 in funding for the kits and made them available to more agencies.

When Gov. John Kasich and state legislators finalized the current budget, money was made available to each county health department to purchase Narcan kits. The Wayne County Health Department received $4,400 this year. Susan Varnes, director of Patient Care Services, is working with first responders on distributing the kits.

Cascarelli said he is not sure how much money will be allocated for the next state fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In 2003, when ODH started tracking these deaths, Wayne County reported one death by overdose of drugs. Three were recorded in 2004; six in 2005; seven in 2006; none in 2007; 11 in 2008; seven in 2009; six in 2010; 13 in 2011; seven in 2012; and four in 2013.

As for no ODs in 2007, “that’s an anomaly,” Cascarelli said.

Despite the availability of naloxone, overdose deaths are on the rise.

Capt. Rhodes Walter, EMS coordinator for the Wooster Fire Division, might have insights into why this is so. In his role as coordinator, he tracks trends in EMS calls.

“An unnerving trend evolving over the past year, since naloxone has been more available to fire, EMS, police, family and friends is users of opiates are willing to push further than they have in the past knowing a reversing drug is immediately available,” Walter said. “These hard-core opiate users looking for the ultimate high are willing to use more.”

The higher they go, the closer they move from sustainability of life to respiratory arrest, Walter said. It has been his experience these drug users are becoming conditioned to higher doses. In turn, this has required first responders to use more naloxone to achieve the same effect.

“The scary thing is the availability of naloxone has removed much of the fear of overdoses,” Walter said.

Reporter Bobby Warren can be reached at 330-287-1639 or bwarren@the-daily-record.com. He is @BobbyWarrenTDR on Twitter.