Overdose deaths dip sharply, down by 13 compared to 2015

Jan 13, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Suicides numbered 19 countywide for the year

From staff reports

Only six deaths were attributed to drug and alcohol overdoses in Fremont County last year - 13 fewer than in 2015, when overdoses were the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths.

Drugs and alcohol still were involved in 31 percent of all 145 cases that the Fremont County Coroner's Office handled last year, even if the substances were not the direct cause of death.

Methamphetamine was a factor in five deaths last year - the most since 2005.

Prescription drugs were involved in fewer than 10 deaths in 2016, even though pharmaceuticals had been a major factor in fatalities in recent years.

Marijuana was reported a factor in the deaths of seven people -- an increase that Stratmoen attributed to the "Colorado effect" of legalization.

National comparison

The 2015 total of 42 accidental deaths represented the highest rate in Fremont County since 1979.

Despite the drop to 29 accidental deaths in 2016, the county still has double the national average of such incidents.

The 16 vehicle deaths and nine homicides in 2016 were nothing unusual for Fremont County, but Coroner Mark Stratmoen said both are still four times higher than the national average. With a total of nine deaths, motor vehicles were the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths last year.

Motor vehicle homicides -- which totaled six last year -- have recently been trending upward. The county had five in 2015, four in 2014 and only one in 2013.

Stratmoen said the county's suicide rate is three times the national average. Seventeen people killed themselves in 2016, just shy of the record of 19 suicides that was set in 2012.

Six of the 2016 suicides were by residents age 25 to 44. Another six occurred among 45- to 64-year-old residents, and four people older than 65 years old killed themselves. One person under the age of 18 committed suicide.

The county has averaged three suicides of people aged 18 to 24 in recent years, but no one in that age group killed themselves last year.

Fewer deaths

With 326 total deaths last year, the coroner's office handled the fewest cases it's seen in at least a decade.

The reduction in autopsies meant that Stratmoen had only spent 37.5 percent of his contractual services budget at of the halfway point of the current fiscal year.

The county has average 130 natural deaths each year over the last decade, but there were only 86 in 2016.

Stratmoen said he expects the number of deaths likely to increase in 2017 with the August solar eclipse that will bring an influx of thousands of people.

The coroner's office is negotiating a deal to establish a county cemetery at the Wyoming Life Resource Center for "direct disposition of indigent and unclaimed remains."

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