Jan. 18 2017 01:35 PM

New maps show where overdose crisis is worse

“Scanner — 30-year-old male overdose victim, not breathing, needles on floor nearby, 3600 block of Lathrop.”

This Jan. 2 sentence is a typical post on neighborhood activist Loretta Stanaway’s Facebook page. Late into the night, she sits at her computer doing work, listening to Lansing scanner traffic. She plucks the ongoing happenings off the airwaves and publishes them on her social media.

And her feed reveals the secret and ongoing deadly opioid overdose crisis washing over Lansing.

Now, Ingham County has created a map that documents where those overdoses occur.

Seeking to bring attention to the epidemic and reveal details of where it impacts the city specifically, county health officials have released a new report and map that drills down on the numbers. It’s the first time health officials have been able to identify geographic “hot spots” for opioid-related.

Her information mirrors new data from the Ingham County Health Department that shows that while deaths from overdoses may be leveling off, rescue efforts are ramping up.

Preliminary data for Ingham County shows 56 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016. That’s virtually level with the 55 deaths reported in 2014, but below the 68 deaths reported in 2015.

The average age of those who died from an overdose last year was 42. But Linda Vail, the county’s health officer, said that statistic obscures the true depth of the epidemic.

Data from the Lansing Fire Department use of Narcan, a powerful drug that stops the effects of opioid overdoses, shows that 88 cases of overdose where the drug was used were in individuals ages 24 to 34. Vail said those who are older likely have been using longer and are already in poorer health at the time of an overdose, accounting for the increased report of deaths in an older demographic.

Data from the Lansing Fire Department shows that between September and December, Lansing Fire Department staffers were administering at least one dose of Narcan daily. Overall, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 15 last year, Lansing Fire officials administered Narcan 243 times in the city.

While the LFD reported using the drug 242 times in 2015, where those doses were administered remains a fuzzy detail. In addition, 2015 was the first year in which emergency medical first responders were required to carry the drug. That’s because in 2014 the legislature passed a law making that possible and giving medical first responders a year to implement the new policy. In 2015 lawmakers expanded the access to the drug to law enforcement responders. And last year, they cleared the way to allow the drug to be available in schools throughout Michigan.

“Deaths have quadrupled in the last 10 to 12 years, which is the national trend, and that's true for Ingham County,” Vail said. “We would consider that an epidemic just like nationally we're calling it an epidemic.”

Being a public health leader, Vail is accustomed to using data to track down epidemic disease outbreaks, from the flu to sexually transmitted infections. But she’s now using that technology and know-how to dig down into the data on the opioid epidemic.

Using mapping technology, Vail and the Ingham County Health Department have created a “Heat Map” showing where Narcan has been administered in the last year in the city of Lansing. It’s visually stunning, showing three areas of hot spots and two slightly less active, albeit just as concerning, areas.

All three key areas of overdoses spread out from Cedar Street. One is located in Lansing’s downtown. Another spreads out from the intersection of Mt. Hope Avenue and Cedar Street. The third spreads east from Cedar across southeast Lansing. The two areas of concern are in North Lansing and central Southwest Lansing.

The location of overdoses is a key piece of information. Many users report using heroin immediately after securing it, often locking themselves in the nearest public bathroom to do it. Vail pointed out that Sparrow sees a significant number of overdoses in its bathrooms in part because it offers the cheapest sterile needle price in the region.

Officials are still trying to get their arms around the data and how exactly to use it to fight the opioid epidemic in the city.

“Right now we're doing a lot of information gathering in order to analyze the information in order to make wise decisions about what to do with it,” Vail said. “And we're fairly early on in that process.”

That process, she said, would include comparing social issues such as crime reports in the hot spot zones to see if there is a correlation.

“So, when we do GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping from a health perspective, we're looking at how do we target with the right prevention activities, treatment activities, intervention activities — is there a way to identify it geographically?” Vail said of her efforts.

A review of online crime mapping data available from the Lansing Police Department does not appear to show a correlation between the hot spots and petty crime reports, such as breaking and entering or drug enforcement activity.

Carol Siemon, Ingham County’s newly elected prosecutor, said she is eager to see what correlation is found between low-level criminal activity and the hot spots, as well as economic factors.

“It certainly would be something that would help us look at what are the demographics and how do they match up with what we know to be the criminal activity and what are we looking at are these people the same people,” she said. “Why are the patterns not matching up if they’re not?”

But finding those patterns may be difficult.

Lansing Police Chief Michael Yankowski said the department has not yet completed the initial 2016 data analysis for crimes. He also said identifying where arrests for heroin are being made in Lansing is not something the city’s computer systems can easily accomplish.

He had not seen the heat map from the county until City Pulse shared it with him. He said the department will review that to see if there are any correlation between the hot spots and crime incidents in the city.

Addressing the crisis is going to require one key response those interviewed for this story said: education.

Said Vail, “A big part of it right now is education and awareness so that people realize that this really is, you know, happening right here in River City.”