Drug-related deaths decrease 74 percent in Tazewell County

By Marshanna Hester

July 11, 2013 Updated Jul 12, 2013 at 9:51 AM CDT

PEKIN, Ill. -- When Tazewell County Coroner Jeff Baldi took control of the office last year, staring him in the face was the county's largest autopsy numbers in history.

There were 43 drug related deaths in 2012.

So far this year, there are 11.

"It's craziness," he said. "It's wonderful."

Baldi said working with other agencies, like Sheriff Bob Huston, to educate the public is spear-heading change but a new philosophy in medicine is also making a difference.

Dr. Tamara Olt established the JOLT Foundation after her son died of a heroin overdose.

A program provides the drug Naloxone, which can reverse an overdose, for Peoria and surrounding counties.

Baldi said that initiative has, so far, saved at least one person.

"It's very hard to find bright spots for someone who's heart's broken but think about the gift that came about because of this broken heart," said Baldi.

This year's deaths are a combination of prescription drugs, heroin and cocaine.

Methadone was a big contributor to last year's historic numbers.

Sheriff Huston could not comment on specific cases, but said major drug players are behind bars.

While that puts authorities on top of the war, one thing remains a mystery: why is this happening in Tazewell County?

"We don't know. It's kind of an anomaly," Huston said. "It's one of the reasons this is so alarming. We're not sure any one thing contributed to it."

Anthony Mansini, 22, is awaiting trial on 11 counts of federal heroin charges, including distribution resulting in three deaths.

Baldi and Huston said the fight continues to prosecute more involved.

They continue to urge the public to work with them to keep their neighbors and streets drug free.

So far in Peoria county, Coroner Johnna Ingersoll says there are 16 drug related deaths.

There were 34 last year.

She says a drug take back program last month collected 45 pounds of prescription medication.