Ashland County Office Building

Ashland County Office Building.

ASHLAND — Ashland County is on track to break some somber records by the end of the year, according to prosecutor Chris Tunnell.

Tunnell said during a $937,000 budget request to county commissioners that the county is likely to experience the largest annual amount of overdose deaths ever. He also believes the county is on track to file the most felony cases it has ever filed in a year.

Tunnell said the overdoses are because of fentanyl, which he said is mixed with meth, cocaine or “whatever they can mix it with.”

Ashland County has seen over 50 overdoses this year. Not all of them have ended in death, but that’s still a lot for the county, Tunnell said.

“That’s the potency. There’s no data on what’s driving (overdoses). But we see fentanyl in almost every sample. So it has more to do with the potency of the product,” Tunnell said.

Ohio had a record 5,491 overdose deaths from March 2020 to March 2021, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC broke down its data by drug class. Opioids, such as heroin, accounted for the highest number of overdose deaths, followed by synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl.

Tunnell said he hopes the forming of an opioid fatality review committee will lead to a better response to the overdosing problem. The committee will include the mental health and recovery board, the health department, the prosecutor’s office and the coroner.

Ashland County Health Department Commissioner Vickie Taylor said the committee will submit a localized report to the Ohio Department of Health in April.

Felony indictments are also up — and on track to hit a new all-time high.

“We’re projecting we’ll probably finish the year in the neighborhood of 270 felony indictments, which will be an all-time high for Ashland County,” Tunnell said.

The record for felony cases filed was 252 in 2019. As of Nov. 15, his office has filed 233.

Tunnell said those felony cases could be higher but some might not be reflected in 2021 numbers because of a state-wide lag at laboratories. There is often a nine-week delay in cases getting filed because of required lab work that is behind.

Many of the felony cases stem from the Ohio State Highway Patrols efforts on I-71, Tunnell said.

“They’re finding a lot of guns out there that are being carried illegally,” he said.

Tunnell highlighted the work of his staff, which he said is usually working “after hours, before hours and on weekends” to get work done.

The prosecutor requested $919,311 in May. This time around, he asked for $937,300 — around $18,000 more. The bulk of that money will go toward wage increases for his staff.

Commissioner Jim Justice said he is “in awe” of what the prosecutor’s office does.

“We think about police all the time. We don’t think about our prosecutors a whole lot, for whatever reason but your staff has done a wonderful job and certainly deserve the raises,” Justice said.

Appropriations for county departments have not yet been finalized. Commissioners hope to approve a final budget for 2022 by Dec. 23, the last meeting of the year.

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