Richland County coroner’s office braces for surge in suicides

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The Chief Investigator for the Richland County Coroner’s Office says he waits for the number of suicides increase this year in the county due to COVID and economic issues.

Robert Ball made the prediction as he and coroner’s administrative assistant Randi Ritchey met with county commissioners on Thursday to examine the rising number of drug-related suicides and deaths and what is being done to help victims’ families .

Ritchey told the council that in 2020, the first full year of the pandemic, there had been 16 suicides – 10 men and 16 women – with ages ranging from 21 to 75. Fourteen were gun-related, one was a hanging and another was the result of jumping from a two-story building.

The number of suicides increased from 16 in 2020 to 23 in 2021

The number of suicides in Richland County rose to 23 last year and involved 19 men and four women between the ages of 14 and 78. One person died while driving under a tow truck, two suffered a carbon monoxide overdose, another from a knife wound. with the rest of the shots.

So far this year, Ritchey said there had been eight suicides as of the end of February – six men and two women between the ages of 23 and 60. Among them was a non-diabetic who overdosed on insulin, another who walked in front of a tractor-trailer and the rest were about firearms.

“We have to think about the epidemic. People were stuck inside and a lot of depression and a lot of mental anxiety happened with the unknown and everything that was going on,” Ritchey said.

Ball blamed the current economy and its supply chain issues as causing some of the anxiety. In a recent case, he said an individual with a home-based business committed suicide after he was unable to obtain equipment and the families he contracted with became “radical” with him.

“It became a situation where he got in over his head. He couldn’t get the material, he owed them money and he just decided, ‘I’m done. I’m checking,” Ball said. “It’s just a lot of frustration, a lot of anger.

Regarding firearms used in local suicides, Ball told commissioners that 85 to 88 percent of firearms are licensed and owned by that person or a family member and the rest are borrowed.

Ball and Ritchey also said Richland County has seen an increase in drug overdoses since 2020, similar to the number of suicides. Richey reported that 64 of the coroner’s 413 cases in 2020 were determined to be overdoses, with 40 men and 24 women between the ages of 21 and 63.

Figures for 2021 show 72 confirmed overdoses out of 453 coroner’s cases involving 53 men and 19 women between the ages of 21 and 70. Statistics for the first two months of this year are incomplete as autopsies are pending, although year-to-date figures show the 31 autopsies this year are double those of 2021 at present and triple in 2020.

The average cost of an autopsy by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office is $2,000, which includes transportation of the body. Richland County has earmarked $230,000 for autopsies this year.

Ball said officials believe some of the drug overdoses were suicides because a person had given up despite going through rehab, although he added that it was difficult to determine. He said overdose issues began to grow with a rapid start to fentanyl use in 2016.

Ball credited the Montgomery County Department of Toxicology and Mansfield Police Department Laboratory Director Tony Tambasco with discovering the different types of fentanyl used. He also thanked the Richland County Board of Mental Health, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the llocal suicide prevention organization 33 Forever to help families who are victims of suicide.

Commissioner Cliff Mears called the report one of the saddest presentations he has heard since taking office a year ago.

JFS receives pandemic funding

On another health issue, commissioners learned at their quarterly department heads meeting that the Department of Employment and Family Services received $358,000 in pandemic funds from the federal Temporary Assistance for Families program. needy (TANF). JFS director Sharlene Neumann said the money is being used to put together $243 worth of COVID wellness kits that contain 19 items ranging from oximeters to tissues and soup and will be distributed to 1 440 families eligible from March 14.

In other departmental reports, it was noted that the Dog Warden’s office is back to full complement of deputies and that a recent fundraiser raised $11,000 for medical treatment of dogs that are brought in . Commissioners also learned that the Emergency Management Agency has been involved in three hazardous material spills since Jan. 3 and is working with agencies on active-fire drills.

Business Manager Andrew Keller said he spent time determining how the drugmakers’ opioid settlement money would be distributed to raise additional funds for Richland County. Dayspring manager Michelle Swank said COVID restrictions have been eased so residents can go out and travel and offers will open next week for the addition of a new nursing position.

In other matters, commissioners approved a sub-grant agreement with the Regional Agency on Aging for federal CARES grant block funding to purchase tablets for learning opportunities and to support a meal program on the campus. They also agreed to post an ad to hire six employees for JFS and a maintenance repair worker for the maintenance department and accepted a retirement letter from longtime Dayspring administrative assistant DeeDee Cunning.

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