The number of fatal overdoses in some South-Central Missouri counties is outpacing the 2020 drug death toll, and in one case, already exceeded last year’s total. Fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and combinations of them were the primary contributors. Coroners across the region have recorded the growing number of incidents with concern and are speaking out in hopes of curbing the epidemic.

In Dent County, seven fatal drug overdoses were recorded as of June 1, which already exceeds the 2020 total of six. That figure is also more than one-third of all non-natural deaths occurring within the county. The victim’s ages ranged from 24 years old to 57 years old.

“This year our age discrepancy has been more vast than it’s ever been,” says Dent County Coroner Ben Pursifull. “Usually, the overdose ages have been in the 20s and 30s, and sometimes into the 40s. This year is the first we’ve been seeing it just as much in the 40s and 50s as in the younger groups.”

Pursifull adds that 2020’s total of six was not a lower-than-average outcome for recent years in Dent County.

“My only suggestion is to keep an eye on people,” Pursifull says. “You can’t make people get help, but you can offer to help them. We need to offer more support for rehab services.”

• As of June 1, Phelps County has recorded 14 fatal drug overdoses stemming from illegal substances. That figure is more than four times the four drug overdoses recorded through the first five months of 2020. It also represents approximately 25% of all non-natural deaths occurring within the county during that period. The ages of the Phelps County victims range from 22 to 57.

“The coroner’s office is deeply concerned for the citizens of this county,” says Phelps County Coroner Ernie Coverdell. “At this pace we will far surpass last year’s totals by yearend. Please we ask that if you have an addiction or you feel that your life means nothing to you, if you’re thinking of suicide or self-harm, know you are not alone and there is help.”

The Crawford County Coroner’s Office reports it has investigated seven overdose deaths from illegal substances as of May 31. Through that period last year, it recorded five fatal overdoses. The ages of the victims this year range from as young as in the 20s to as old as in the 60s.

Texas County Coroner Marie Lasater reports four fatal drug overdoses have been recorded in that jurisdiction through June 1. Contrary to Crawford, Dent and Phelps counties, Lasater says that trend is a decrease from last year. The final fatal overdose total in Texas County was 11 for 2020.