Cocaine deaths in Jefferson County rising

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - The United States is facing a heroin epidemic right now, but it's not the only drug hurting our community. Cocaine deaths are also on the rise in Jefferson County.

In the last four years, there have been 189 cocaine deaths in Jefferson County. Of those, 48 who've died have been 50 years or older.

But while the numbers may seem high to many, it's not to those who work with those trying to beat their addiction.

"We know cocaine continues to be a serious problem in our community and many of the people using are people who started when they were younger are using as they grow older," said Chirs Retan, executive director of the Aletheia House.

Retan said it's not uncommon for him to see folks in their 50s or older going through rehab.

A closer look at cocaine deaths in Jefferson County highlights the issue.

In 2014, 11 of the 37 people who died were fifty years old or older.

In 2015, that number rose to 12 out of 38.

In 2016, the overall number of cocaine deaths jumped to 55. Of that number, 12 were over the age of 50.

And in 2017, 13 out of 59 deaths fit that bill.

So, why cocaine?

"I just think there's a lot of people for whom the injection of drugs -- it's a much more serious kind of situation," Retan says. "And there are people who don't like needles but there are also people who are concerned about the spread of infection, HIV, and other infections from a needle."

Cocaine use can bring on hypertension in someone who may not otherwise have it.  that can cause serious complications and death for older users.

Retan said the numbers show the need for a more comprehensive approach to addressing drug issues  

"We have to address all types of drugs and all ages of users and all races of users and to understand this is a problem that affects people from 12 to 92 in our community."

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