York County residents are mixing drugs with a lethal effect, with more drug-related deaths in 2012 than any time in at least the last 10 years.
York County Coroner Barry Bloss' office handled 64 drug-related deaths in 2012, up from 47 in 2011 and the largest number posted since 2003, according to a recently released 2012 report.
Most of those cases include prescription drug use or abuse, with many involving "multi-drug toxicity." That means people were mixing drugs -- legal, illegal or a combination -- that shouldn't be mixed, the coroner said. The report doesn't separate illegal drug use from legal.
"The choice of most drug addicts today is mostly prescription drugs instead of cocaine or the things you think of ... or a mix," he said.
Bloss said he isn't sure why there's been such an increase, but an upswing is sometimes the result of an extremely potent batch of drugs hitting the community. Law officials discover the killer drugs after people who survive overdoses are treated at area hospitals, he said.
"It could be if they're taking coke or heroin, they get hot loads that were more pure than it was before," he said.
An extremely potent "hit" of the illegal drug, even at a dosage level with which the user was familiar, ends up lethal -- especially when taken in combination with prescriptions or other drugs, Bloss said.
Homicide and suicide: Most deaths in 2012 could have been prevented, the coroner said, and that's what the numbers show every year.
Last year was pretty typical for overall numbers, with Bloss' office processing 455 deaths, down from 490 in 2011 and in keeping with trends over the past 10 years, he said.
There were 19 homicides -- 12 in York City and seven in the suburbs -- in 2012, down from 20 -- 16 in York City and four in the suburbs -- in 2011, the report shows.
In keeping with previous years, most York City shootings were related to drugs and gangs, and the suburban crimes were mostly related to domestic issues, Bloss said.
York City Police Chief Wes Kahley emphasized the decrease in city homicides, but declined to comment because his department is still compiling data.
Countywide, the number of suicides was about steady, increasing from 55 in 2011 to 57 last year, the report shows.
Bloss said most people who killed themselves used guns, and most didn't leave notes.
"We don't have any real reason why people commit suicide," he said. "Elderly don't want to be a burden or they're in too much pain. Most of the younger people (commit suicide) over breakups ... and most are white males."
At home and at play: The coroner's Home/Play category grew from 54 to 77 deaths between 2011 and 2012. The section is a catch-all that includes people who died in or around their homes or "at play," Bloss said.
While 77 sets a new high, the number isn't very far from the 10-year trend, he said. For example, there were 75 such deaths in 2010 and 72 in 2007.
The 2012 numbers include a woman who was gored to death by a deer, a plane-crash victim and a 29-year-old who fell down his stairs while his blood-alcohol level was 0.285, more than three times the legal driving limit of 0.08, Bloss said.
But most of the deaths in the category, about 75 percent, are the result of elderly people falling in their homes, he said.
As they age, people tend to shuffle or drag their feet, Bloss said, and the coroner's office has started a task force to reduce the number of falls by educating elderly people and their caretakers.
But after a drop in 2011, the numbers increased for 2012, Bloss said, who attributed the increase to the growing population of older people.
Crashes: Motor-vehicle-related deaths fell from 50 in 2011 to 30 last year, the lowest number logged in at least 10 years, the report shows.
Bloss said he hopes that sudden decrease is related to airbags and safer automobiles, seatbelt use and safe-driving awareness campaigns.
Though the report counts all cases processed by York County, a handful of cases were residents from neighboring counties who died in York because, for example, they were transported to York Hospital for treatment, he said. The numbers don't include York County residents who died in other counties because, for example, they were taken to Hershey Medical Center.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at firstname.lastname@example.org.