Drug overdose deaths in the state more than doubled between 2012 and 2015, according to new data from the state medical examiner’s office. And experts said the huge spike, while sad, isn’t surprising.

The medical examiner’s office reports that accidental drug intoxication deaths jumped from 357 in 2012 to 723 in 2015. The number has been rising steadily over the past few years. The state reported 568 accidental intoxication deaths last year, and 495 in 2014. The majority of 2015’s drug deaths involved heroin, morphine or codeine, which has been consistent year-to-year.

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Overdose deaths rise

Bethel: heroin, 1

Brookfield: heroin, 3

Danbury: heroin, 4; opiate, 3; oxycodone, 1; cocaine, 1

New Fairfield: methadone/morphine, 1

New Milford: heroin, 5; methadone, 1; amphetamine, 1

Newtown: Fentanyl, 1

Redding: heroin, 1

Washington: oxycodone, 1

Source: CT state medical examiner's office

The state’s soaring drug death rate is consistent with the nationwide trend. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that opioid overdose deaths shot to a record high in 2014, increasing 14 percent in just one year. Experts said it’s unclear exactly why the number of drug deaths has spiked, but reasons could include prescription drug users turning to heroin and being unprepared for its effects, or the creep of unusually potent or tainted drugs into the market.

“We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of this problem,” New Milford Police Chief Shawn Boyne said. “The solution will be through a cooperative education and treatment program along with law enforcement.”

A regional approach is being taken to address the heroin and opioid epidemic, but even as officials work to stem the tide, overdose deaths have continued.

There were five heroin and one methadone overdose deaths reported in New Milford between January and September 2015. In Danbury, there were four heroin, three opiate, one oxycodone and one cocaine overdose death. Brookfield saw three heroin overdoses, while Bethel, New Fairfield, Newtown, Redding and Washington each had one drug-related death during that time.

Boyne said the New Milford Police Department is continuing “aggressive patrols and the use of our two K-9s as well as working with the statewide Narcotics Task Force.”

He said they have been successful arresting and convicting drug dealers and his department’s officers were trained last year to use Narcan, which can reverse a heroin overdose.

“The ambulance crew and EMS are so proactive, Narcan is regularly used before we get there, but we’re ready on arrival to act,” Boyne said. “Our dispatchers are trained to get pre-arrival information when an overdose call comes in. We have increased our response to the situation as has been required, and I feel we’re doing a good job.”

Danbury Police Chief Alan Baker said his officers do not carry Narcan kits, but the city’s paid ambulance and EMS service does an “excellent job” in administering the antidote. Baker said his department has actively addressed the problem and “drug detectives” are now responding to the scenes of overdose deaths.

“They are doing as much research as possible to determine the source of the drugs, examining cellphones and tracing associates,” Baker said. “We recently had two overdoses in one weekend, one death and one not. The heroin is being mixed with Fentanyl, creating a lethal dose. It’s only working together, regionally, that we will control this epidemic.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said such a regional approach is being taken by members of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments.

“We’re working as a group to develop initiatives,” Boughton said. “Everybody recognizes this is a horrible problem. This problem knows no borders. The state is also working on initiatives and we are all working together to bring an end to this crisis.”

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352