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Heroin deaths hit tragic new high in Will County

The Will County Health Department's Joeseph Troiani (right) Coroner Patrick O'Neil talk about heroproblem Will County Joliet 2009.  |

The Will County Health Department's Joeseph Troiani (right) and Coroner Patrick O'Neil talk about the heroin problem in Will County and Joliet in 2009. | File photo

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:25AM

A sad record became official last week.

After receiving toxicology results, Coroner Patrick K. O’Neil recorded Will County’s 31st fatal heroin overdose of 2012 — breaking last year’s record.

While only recent records are computerized, heroin use still wasn’t as prevalent before cocaine became trendy and sharing needles became scary in the early 1980s.

O’Neil has been coroner since 1992 and said a year with more than one heroin death was unusual until 1999.

Six people died that year, five people in their 40s and a 19-year-old girl.

Five more died in 2000. Fifteen in 2005. Twenty-six in 2010.

Only traffic accidents caused more unnatural deaths in Will County than heroin last year.

The year 2012 started off with eight heroin deaths in 30 days. A 25-year-old man overdosed in Joliet on New Year’s Day. By the end of the month, a 51-year-old Romeoville man and an 18-year-old Naperville woman also had died from opiate intoxication.

“There is no demographic criteria,” O’Neil said, looking over the latest report.

Fatal overdoses seem to split evenly between users who inject heroin and those who snort or smoke it. Some overdose in front of witnesses, but deputy coroners have found most people are alone when they take that fatal hit. While men are leading women 2 to 1, victims have included whites, blacks and Hispanics ranging in age from 18 to 65.

There also have been fatal overdoses in Bolingbrook, Braidwood, Channahon, Crete, Frankfort, Lockport, New Lenox and various unincorporated areas.

Toxicology results found heroin remaining in the blood of 27 overdoses, while the other four died from a combination of drugs.

“They’ll show opiate intoxication, but the (heroin testing) marker only sticks around for a short period of time. If they survive longer than a half-hour after taking it, it disappears,” O’Neil said.

But remnants and other evidence police find at the scene show which drug was a factor in their death. The most recent confirmed heroin overdose was a 28-year-old man in Joliet Township on Aug. 21.

“That’s one more than last year and we still have four months to go,” O’Neil said.

The coroner then looked over the list of deaths still awaiting toxicology reports and pointed to a pending case.

“Here’s one that appears to be,” he said. “We could hit 50 this year.”

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