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Prescription overdose deaths on the rise

St. Croix County Medical Examiner Patty Schachtner poses with a brochure depicting a multitude of prescription drugs. (Photo by Micheal Foley)

Since the heroin epidemic struck young people in Hudson in recent years, St. Croix County Medical Examiner (ME) Patty Schachtner has been dealing with more and more addiction-related deaths. And in 2014, she noticed a significantly high number of prescription medication overdose deaths.

“What we’re finding now, which is part of the national trend, is that heroin is just the cheaper part of the opiate addiction,” Schachtner said. “We’re seeing more and more people who have been addicted to medications for decades. That is where we’re seeing problems now, and that is not unique to St. Croix County. It’s a national problem.”

Schachtner, who recently stepped down from a position as the Somerset High School health care provider to focus on her ME duties, said there are 10 million drug-endangered children in the United States right now.

“They live with addiction every day, whether it’s alcohol, prescription drugs or illicit drugs,” Schachtner said. “When you’re raised with addiction, you’re raised differently, because you’re taught to love with consequences. Such as, ‘If you love me, you’re not going to tell anybody that I do this. And if you do, then they’re going to take you away or they’re going to take me away.’”

Schachtner says it is heartbreaking for her to see firsthand how various addictions lead to death.

“We’re seeing a lot more of survivors of addiction living kind of behind closed doors,” Schachtner said. “We really need to understand that addiction, suicide and mental health all go hand in hand. Once we start taking that barrier down, we can start fighting addiction much more efficiently.”

As a medical examiner, Schachtner is called in when it’s already too late to save a life, but that doesn’t stop her from doing all she can to bring awareness to suicide prevention and addiction treatment programs.

“The big thing is coming up with community coalitions,” Schachtner said. “We have the Suicide Prevention Task Force. Now, we’re getting a group of people together to start a drug coalition to really get out there and inform the public of what’s going on, especially with addiction. We can certainly be part of stopping the next generation of people through prevention.”

Schachtner said the lack of government funding for such programs is a stumbling block just about everywhere, which is why communities need to organize themselves to take positive action.

“As a community — that’s school districts, churches, local civic clubs — we all have to work together and say ‘enough is enough,’ and really work at getting the message out that we are here to support people with addiction,” Schachtner said.

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BY THE NUMBERS

St. Croix County Medical Examiner’s Office had 550 calls in 2014. Of those, 110 were full on-scene investigations. Of those 110 investigations, one was a homicide, 12 were suicides, four were undetermined, 17 were accidental and 68 were natural with other contributing factors.

Of those deceased at age 25 and younger, five were natural, five were accidental and two were suicides.

Of the deaths in which drugs were a contributing factor, 20 were accidental, 12 were suicides, one was a homicide and two were undetermined. Sixty-three deaths had drugs as a contributing factor.

The Medical Examiner’s Office ordered 31 autopsies in 2014. Of those, three deaths were ruled accidental, six were medical, one was a homicide, 13 were overdoses and three were suicides. Five of the autopsies were conducted on children.

Micheal Foley
Micheal Foley worked at RiverTown Multimedia from July 2013 to June 2015 as editor at the New Richmond News. 
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