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Lansing police: Heroin-related deaths outpace homicides and fatal car wrecks

Thomas Marthinsen

Many communities are grappling with an epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse. 

But when Lansing Police Chief Mike Yankowski crunched the local numbers, he says they were "eye-popping."

His officers responded to 26 heroin-related deaths in 2015, he says. 

"That is actually more than homicides and fatal car accidents here in the city of Lansing," he says.

"And when you look at it and say, there's been 26 overdoses related to heroin alone ... that is a 700% increase from [2014] when we had three."

That 700% jump is partly because they're getting better at tracking those deaths, he says, but it's also because heroin is increasingly the cheaper alternative to prescription drugs. 

"We saw that we had 138 heroin overdoses in the city of Lansing in 2015," Yankowski says. When he asked the fire department how often they'd administered Narcan (a drug that can save the life of someone experiencing an overdose,) "they had pushed the Narcan 295 times in 2015."

Another data point: Yankowski says the average age of Lansing fatalities from a heroin overdose is 44.

"What that tells us, those that are 30 and younger are surviving the overdose. They get to the hospital in time without it being fatal. Or they're able to be brought to life, with this drug Narcan," he says. "And that when you're over the age of 40, you're seeing a higher rate of fatalities because of other medical conditions, that it's very difficult when you're 40, 50, 60 to bring yourself back from a fatal overdose."  

Some of the changes to regulations aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse are starting to take effect, Yankowski says, and that's why he believes they're seeing a sharp, sudden jump in heroin deaths. 

"Because of the availability, and the cost of heroin is so low, and the high purity levels of heroin, is really what's adding fuel to the fire and making this so aggressive." 

Meanwhile, prescription drug deaths are also climbing in the area: The Ingham County Health Department says there were at least 50 prescription drug overdose deaths in 2015 and 2014. That's up from 17 deaths in 2010. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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