Over the course of 2019, the Sheriff’s Office investigated 120 coroner-related cases, compared to 98 cases the year before. It was determined that 30 of those deaths were accidental, five were homicides, and 17 were suicides, compared to nine suicides in 2018.

Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey sees a disturbing and growing trend that links illicit drug use with accidental deaths, suicides, and homicides.

Over the course of 2019, the Sheriff’s Office investigated 120 coroner-related cases, compared to 98 cases the year before. It was determined that 30 of those deaths were accidental, five were homicides, and 17 were suicides, compared to nine suicides in 2018.

The cause of one death is still undetermined and another is pending a manner of death determination, Lopey said.

Methamphetamine was a factor in 29% of Siskiyou County suicides and marijuana factored in about 29% of the suicides, said Lopey. Opioids were implicated in about 12% of the suicides. Alcohol is also a factor in accidental and suicidal deaths, including about a 24% factor in 2019 suicides.

One positive development during 2019 was the significant reduction in traffic-related fatalities, Lopey said. There were eight traffic fatalities in Siskiyou County during 2019, compared with 19 the year before. He said this can be attributed to a variety of factors such as prevention, enforcement, education, engineering, and weather.

Of the 30 accidental deaths, four citizens died in fire-related mishaps, four died as a result of carbon monoxide poisonings. One death was related to fentanyl and another is attributed to heroin use. There were two drownings, one cocaine-related fatality, three fatal falls, one tree-related death, one alcohol-related death, a tractor mishap, one “polypharmacy-related” accidental death, a methamphetamine fatality, and one train-related accidental death, Lopey noted.

Of the 17 suicides investigated by the Sheriff’s Office, five were due to hanging, 11 were attributed to gunshot wounds, and one deliberate carbon monoxide death occurred, said Lopey.

The five homicides during 2019 resulted in six victims, but one homicide in the county was a continuation of a crime spree that originated in Roseville and the criminal case was handled by Roseville Police, Lopey said.

Over the course of 2019, 97 autopsies were conducted and 67 coroner cases were determined to be natural deaths in consultation with medical authorities.

The connection to drugs, alcohol

During 2019, of the eight motor vehicle accidents, three involved methamphetamine use and one of those deaths included methamphetamine and THC, the active ingredient found in marijuana, Lopey said. One traffic fatality had a blood alcohol level at or near the legal limit of .08% and one significantly exceeded that legal limit, Lopey noted.

Only three of the eight people who died in motor vehicle accidents were found to be without drugs or alcohol in their system, Lopey said.

One fire victim had a high blood alcohol level and prescription medication in the system, said Lopey. The fentanyl-related death involved not only the narcotic analgesic but methamphetamine and alcohol were additional factors in the death. The heroin-related death also involved a high content of alcohol and THC from marijuana consumption. The cocaine-related accidental death also involved a barbiturate drug. A death involving a tree-related mishap involved methamphetamine use. An alcohol-related death occurred (blood alcohol was extremely high at .71%). One polypharmacy-related death included the ingestion of nine different prescription drugs. The methamphetamine-related death involved a narcotic analgesic as well, said Lopey.

Suicides

Siskiyou County experienced an approximate 89% increase in suicides in 2019, Lopey said, most involving illicit drugs, alcohol and/or medication.

The most common drugs affiliated with suicides were methamphetamine, marijuana, alcohol and opioids.

“For example, only seven toxicology tests returned with no drugs or alcohol and one body was too decomposed to obtain an accurate toxicology test,” said Lopey. “Of the remaining nine cases, five deaths involved methamphetamine. Of the five methamphetamine-related suicides, four involved meth and other drugs. One meth-related suicide involved marijuana and a narcotic analgesic, one meth-related death involved alcohol and marijuana, another implicated meth and alcohol only, and the remaining suicide involved meth, alcohol, and marijuana.”

Lopey noted that one suicide involved narcotics (morphine with probability of heroin), two deaths involved alcohol only, two suicides involved small quantities of alcohol and marijuana, and two suicides were marijuana-related only. During 2019, the Sheriff’s Office attributed two homicide incidents (included three victims) as directly related to the marijuana trade.”

Prevention

“Illicit drug use, alcohol use, misuse of some prescription and other legal drugs, and the proliferation of marijuana are creating some escalating and daunting challenges for health care professionals, law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and society in general,” said Lopey. “These findings indicate drug and alcohol use and abuse are still serious challenges in Siskiyou County. Sadly, most of these deaths attributed to accidents, suicides, or homicide were preventable.”

Lopey said his office is working with the county leaders, Siskiyou County Department of Public Health, the courts, other criminal justice partners, and Siskiyou County Health and Human Services and behavioral health staff to develop strategies “with which to mitigate the growing problems associated with accidents, suicides, and homicides linked to illicit drug use, alcohol abuse, and misuse of other drugs.”

His office is working to accelerate DARE programs in local schools and promoting prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs.

“For example, numerous federal, state, local, and tribal partners participate in the Siskiyou Against Rx Addiction (SARA), which includes public safety, public health, clinicians, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and hospital administrators, which have worked diligently to stem the dangerous tide of opioid use, abuse, and deaths,” said Lopey. “Siskiyou County participates in drug task forces that exemplify multi-agency cooperation and active engagement. The county has engaged in drug, mental health, and veterans’ court-type activities to help those afflicted with addiction.”

In cooperation with Siskiyou County Public Health, local health providers, SARA, and Siskiyou County Health and Human Services, the Siskiyou County Jail implemented a Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program for inmates and those transitioning to a life in their respective communities, Lopey said.

The Jail’s Day Reporting Center, a multi-agency endeavor with partners such as the Siskiyou County Probation Department, Siskiyou County District Attorney, Siskiyou County Public Defender, Siskiyou County Health and Human Services’ Behavioral Health Services, Siskiyou County Superior Court, Yreka Police Department (representing city police chiefs), Siskiyou Domestic Violence & Crisis Center, Karuk Tribe, Siskiyou Board of Supervisors, and others help support programs for alternative sentencing outside the jail and some that are in custody through various prevention, rehabilitation, and treatment programs, Lopey noted.

“Inmates are also assisted with education, job placement, housing, and other criminogenic needs to reduce their propensity to reoffend by giving them tools to succeed in society, which helps families, communities, and those impacted by crime. “

Lopey said that although the new jail program is moving forward, and jail beds are in “critical need, “we do not now nor will we later have enough jail space to accommodate all offenders plagued by drug addictions and mental health disorders,” Lopey said. “We cannot afford a continuous, long-term detention of inmates whom we can effectively commit to suitable substance abuse and mental health care programs, which will effectively divert many of these citizens away from the criminal justice system and help them become law-abiding and more successful people in their respective communities.”

Lopey encouraged anyone suffering from substance abuse challenges should seek treatment options by contacting Siskiyou County’s Substance Use Disorder (SUD) experts by calling (530) 841-4890. A special SUD crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be reached by calling 1-800-842-8979.

Suicide prevention lifelines are also available by dialing Siskiyou County’s Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Text (LISTEN to 741741); Suicide hotline resources can also be obtained if Spanish is your primary language by calling 1-888-628-9454. For youths, text ‘HOPE’ or call (916) 668-4226, or, 1-800-448-3000.

To access local mental health crisis help services, call 1-800-842-8979. Siskiyou County Behavioral Health Services can be contacted during normal business hours at (530) 841-4100. Mount Shasta’s BHS office can be contacted during normal business hours at (530) 918-7200.

Veterans may seek Suicide Prevention Lifeline support by dialing 1-866-986-1981.

Another veteran hotline hosted by Centerstone Military Services, is available by dialing 1-866-781-8010.

“These alcohol or drug, suicide prevention, and mental health care resources are only a phone call away for those in need,” said Lopey.

If an emergency exists, dial 911. For routine or non-emergency inquiries of a law enforcement nature, contact your local agency or the Sheriff Office’s 24 hour Dispatch Center at (530) 841-2900.