The Lebanon County Commissioners received the annual accidental death and suicide report on Thursday at their regular meeting.
Holly Leahy, executive director of Mental Health, Intellectual Disability, Early Intervention of Lebanon County, and James Donmoyer, executive director of the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, presented the yearly accidental death and suicide figures to the commissioners to keep them apprised of problems in the county as well as to outline plans for intervention.
They were joined by County Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Yocum, who works with the agencies to keep track of suspicious or unnatural deaths in the county.
In 2019, there were 208 deaths termed accidental or suicide, compared with 251 in 2018.
Of that number, 41 were accidental; 28 were drug-related; 12 were due to motor vehicle accidents; one from drowning; and 19 suicides.
One year prior, there were 22 suicides, Leahy said.
Gunshots are the main method of suicide, with the average age 48.8 years and the gender, male.
In 2018, the average age was 50.1 years, Leahy said, remarking that there is a consistency in the age, year to year.
Of last year’s 19 suicides, 15 were male and four were female, she said.
Four of the suicides were veterans, compared with five veterans who committed suicide in 2018.
Looking at methods used, Leahy said 12 were by firearms, three by hanging, one by pills and alcohol overdose, one by fluid inhalation, one hit by a train, and one stabbing.
Only five of the individuals who committed suicide had a known background of mental health issues and three had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
There’s an assumption that high numbers of teenagers are prone to suicide, but one of the insights shared was that middle-aged white males are more prone to suicide than other age groups and are most likely to commit suicide with a firearm.
Sixteen were Caucasian, with one each Hispanic, Asian, and black.
“The (primary victims) are white males, middle-aged or older, usually by firearm,” Leahy said. “They tend to be isolated and not connected to the community.”
Suicide prevention training continues, Leahy said, as does a media campaign with WellSpan/Philhaven.
“We are working on a new initiative to train youth in QPR, to create ambassadors who can go into schools or the community,” Leahy said. “We want to continue to explore other areas and ways to reach out to the community.”
The suicide prevention training has been with three young people who are specifically taught to Question, Persuade, and Refer – the QPR Leahy spoke of.
“This is to identify a young person who may be having a really bad day; it’s about quick intervention,” Leahy said. “We want to ensure their safety and get them the services they need.”
The questioning is to ask the teen what’s going on in their life, how they are feeling, and persuading is to get the teen to speak with them further, to identify if intervention is needed, while referring the teen to a professional is the next step.
Donmoyer told the commissioners there were 28 overdose deaths last year, up one from 2018.
The average age was 44.9, which is older than normal, and is usually more in the 30 to 39 years old age group.
Of the 28 overdose deaths, 20 were male and eight were female; the youngest was 22 and the oldest, 79.
Regarding racial makeup, 19 were Caucasian, eight were Hispanic, and one was of unknown heritage.
“Most of the deaths were opiate-related, particularly from Fentanyl, and six were non-opiate-related,” Donmoyer said.
Three of the overdoses occurred in Annville, three in Myerstown, one each in Palmyra and Jonestown, and the rest were in the Lebanon area.
The age group hit hardest was in their 50s; seven of the overdose deaths were people 50 years old or older.
Six overdose deaths were in the 20s; five each in their 30s and 40s; four in their 60s; and one in the seventh decade of life.
“It’s (statistics) indicating to me that there were no adolescents,” Donmoyer said. “The age of the suicides are getting older, the age is starting to rise.”
On a related topic, Dr. Yocum said the Wellspan/Good Samaritan Hospital will be expanding its morgue to allow more access for the coroner’s office.
Also, for the first time in Lebanon County’s history, the coroner’s office will have a vehicle of its own, Yocum said.
“It will be coming into service soon,” said Yocum.
The vehicle will take over the job of transporting bodies, a job formerly done by First Aid and Safety Ambulance.
Although the FASP crew received payment for transporting duties, the organization was recently downsized and will be using personnel for more accident and health-related runs.
The coroner’s vehicle is new, designed specifically for the coroner’s office, has a truck-like vehicle chassis, and cost about $35,000, said Commissioner Bill Ames.
The coroner also has new deputies; one is recently retired former District Justice Tom Capello, who has completed the necessary training.
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Full Disclosure: The campaigns of Bill Ames, Bob Phillips, and Jo Ellen Litz were advertisers on LebTown during the previous election cycle. LebTown does not make editorial decisions based on advertising relationships and advertisers do not receive special editorial treatment. Learn more about advertising with LebTown here.