In 2021, a year that's seen a record-breaking number of Covid-19 deaths, there is another epidemic that's been overshadowed: the opioid epidemic.

"We shouldn't be hidden," Mercer County Coroner John Libonati, said. "We should be out there amongst the people."

John Libonati believes its not only a coroner's job to investigate deaths, but also to serve the living which is why he's shedding light on the county's ongoing struggle with opioid-use.

"With drug deaths, we've seen a significant increase," he said. "This is the worst year Mercer County has ever had."

According to Libonati, there have been 57 confirmed drug overdose deaths in Mercer County in 2021 with 30 cases pending. He estimates about 10 of those 30 cases will also be drug overdose deaths.

 People in Trumbull County have seen similar trends this year. April Caraway with the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board says there's been over 100 confirmed drug overdose deaths with many more cases still waiting for lab analysis. 

"We know that it's devastating families," Caraway said. "This epidemic continues to devastate families and take lives."

The rate of substance use and drug overdoses has, undoubtedly, been exacerbated by the pandemic, both officials say, which is why they agree now, more than ever, it's important to reach out to your community.

"It's very important that we get out there and that we connect with our communities and that we educate," Libonati said.

According to the CDC website, people can help by learning more about opioid-use in general as well as how it affects their community. It also says people need to try to understand and move past any misconceptions when it comes to drug use.

"The people we see are good, solid people," Libonati said. "It's people of all socioeconomic backgrounds."

If your family member happens to be among that group of people struggling with substance abuse and drug addiction, Caraway says the most important thing is you patiently support them and encourage them to seek help.

She also has a message for anyone battling an addiction.

"Know that you are worth something. Know that you are loved and you can get past it," Caraway said.

There is an abundance of free resources here locally to get help and get it quickly. For more information, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline.