Reno County (KS) Sees Spike in Overdoses

FILE - In this Tuesday, July 3, 2018 file photo, a Narcan nasal device which delivers naloxone lies on a counter.

John Green

The Hutchinson News, Kan.


Reno County health officials issued an alert Wednesday about a marked increase in both fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in the county in recent weeks, including three in just 24 hours last week.

The rapid increase likely involved synthetic opioids containing illegally manufactured Fentanyl, according to county health department release.

Officials suspect Fentanyl also is being mixed in other substances, including methamphetamine, heroin, and fake pills made to look like Oxycontin.

They issued the warning for several reasons, said Seth Dewey, the health department’s Substance Misuse Health Educator.

“This information is basically intended for anyone using substances,” he said. “We realize this is risky behavior that some in our community are taking. We want to put the message out there about what’s going on so they can be aware and protect themselves. The end game is to get them in recovery and get them referred to resources, but that can’t happen if they are dead.”

It’s also to let substance misusers recognize the community does care, Dewey said, and “that we as a community are there to support them through their journey, to get through the rough time and get them plugged into resources once they get through this patch.”

The county’s data shows there were 28 drug and alcohol overdoses in March. That compared to 27 in December and 23 in November, traditionally the highest months for overdoses.

“We expect those times to be harder with the holidays,” Dewey said. “More people are partying and having depression issues. The fact we’re seeing a spike in overdoses in March tells us there’s probably more to this.”

Dewey is also a member of the Reno Recovery Collaborative.

That group, a coalition in the community focused on prevention, education, and support of residents with substance misuse disease and their families, offered ways the community can respond.

They include:

— Encouraging more people to carry naloxone (Narcan), a medication designed to reverse an opioid overdose that can be administered through injection or now as a nasal spray;

— Encouraging people who use substances never to use alone; and

— Asking people who have friends or family that use substances to check on them regularly.

Those follow the steps of a nationwide Health Alert issued last December by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in response to the ongoing nationwide opioid epidemic.

Information on naloxone education, training, and availability is at

“Individuals can go to that website and request Narcan for themselves or family members,” Dewey said. “They not only send that in the mail, but they also send instructional information and educational information on it. That way it’s at least available in the event of an emergency.”

People can also reach out to the health department to arrange for Narcan training.

Of those who overdosed in March, five received Narcan, and two people died.

Since October 2020, there have been 134 overdoses in the county, with 34 administrations of naloxone and seven deaths.

“If you think about that, say the Narcan was not available, what that could have done to the total number of fatalities,” Dewey said.

Awareness of the increase in overdoses was made possible through a new database the health department began using in October that allows tracking numbers in real-time. Several agencies are entering data, but it primarily comes from EMS, Dewey said.

The public can view the dashboard at

“I know that in the past that way we tracked overdoses was predominately among the fatalities category,” Dewey said, noting data was also nine months to a year old when received.

“The benefit we have with the overdose mapping is it allows us to track fatalities, but also non-fatal overdoses, and in real-time … It gives us a clear depiction of what’s really going on in our community.”

Another purpose of the county’s alert, Dewey said, is “to start building up a certain level of community trust between those going through substance misuse disorder and the community, to open up the level of communication between them and public health and treatment providers, medical staff and first responders.”

Dewey is himself a recovering addict.

“We’ve learned in the past that some previous approaches used through the years are not as effective,” he said. “What we’re starting to realize, through studies on addiction science and use disorders, is that meeting people where they are reduces the harm from potential risky behavior.”

Substance misuse carries a stigma, but it’s a chronic disease that is a public health issue.

“From that, we’re taking a more human approach, showing they can connect to the community and get the resources they need,” he said.

For more local information, education, and specific activities on substance misuse, or if you want to get involved in the Reno Recovery Collaborative, contact Dewey at

(c)2021 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)

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