Decades of drug trends exposed in Tippecanoe Co. study

Photo courtesy WLFI

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – Nel Hoon said when she lost her son, Shannon, to a drug overdose she had no answers only guesses.

“He called me and he said ‘Mom a good friend of mine is going to die because he’s into drugs really bad,’” Hoon said. “At the time, I didn’t realize, but years later I realized Shannon was talking about himself.”

Shannon, a Tippecanoe County native, was on tour with his band Blind Melon when he overdosed on cocaine in 1995. Hoon said when she got the news at work she went into shock. She hardly remembers the funeral or who was there.

Then, she left.

“When this happened with Shannon, I moved away,” Hoon said. “I left my home with my clothes hanging in the closet, nothing but my car and my dog. I didn’t come back for eight years.”

Unfortunately, Shannon’s overdose was just one of thousands that year.

In Tippecanoe County, accidental drug overdoses have risen about 500 percent in the last decade.

The Tippecanoe County Coroner’s Office looked at all 2,914 deaths investigated at the office from 1993-2013. From there, Deputy Coroner Matt Wietbrock put together a comprehensive 20-year drug death study.

“When I took on this effort, one of my goals was to really understand whether or not those national trends translated to a local level,” Wietbrock said. “We’re not immune to these problems.”

Wietbrock compared the two decades in the report. Several trends changed from decade to decade. First was the drug involved in the deaths.

From 1993 to 2003 cocaine was the most common drug found in an accidental overdose accounting for about 12 of the 33 overdoses. That decade methadone accounted for three deaths.

From 2003 to 2013 there were 155 accidental overdoses. Methadone was involved in 40. Cocaine was not in the top five.

“The misuse of opioids is the most startling trend we uncovered in this study,” Wietbrock. “We don’t see any evidence of those trends slowing down.”

The manner of death also changed between decades. In the first decade, Wietbrock said if there was the use of drugs or alcohol you were most likely to die in a vehicle. Fifty-six percent of accidental deaths involving drugs or alcohol were in transportation wrecks.

“When we compared that to the second decade of the study, we saw that the position of accidental drug overdoses and transportation accidents had flipped,” Wietbrock said. “Sixty-eight percent are now accidental drug overdoses and only 20 percent were transportation related.”

Hoon said she feels lucky Shannon has such a fan base even after his death. His grave site in Dayton serves as a site for a memorial every year during his birthday.

“It’s painful in the beginning, but I can deal with the pain to keep his name out there,” Hoon said.

One of Shannon’s lyrics is on his grave stone. It begins saying ‘I know we can’t all stay here forever’ but how the lyric is finished, Hoon said, may be her son’s legacy.

“I want to write my words on the face of today, and then they’ll paint it,” Hoon quoted.

Wietbrock presented Tippecanoe County’s study earlier this year to the American Academy of Forensic Science. The study was started by the former Tippecanoe County coroner, the late Dr. Martin Avolt. Wietbrock said it was important for him to complete the study for his old boss.

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